Balancing sanctuary and safety, we want immigrants—regardless of their status—to feel safe participating in the criminal justice system.
We value the vibrancy of Philadelphia’s communities and the legacy of being a welcoming place for all. Our city is home to immigrants from around the globe: the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe. At least 146 different languages are spoken in Philly homes.
More than one out of ten people living in Philadelphia are not U.S. citizens. Inevitably, some of them get caught up in the criminal justice system as either victims, witnesses, or defendants. When they do, we ensure immigrants are treated fairly and with respect, and that their cases are adjudicated in ways that minimize the impact to their immigration status.
As we strive to make Philadelphia more safe and just, we must create a criminal justice system where victims and witnesses feel comfortable coming forward, telling the truth, and helping our police and prosecutors enforce the law. We cannot do that if immigrants fear potential consequences by coming forward.
With non-citizen defendants, we seek the fairest outcome, what’s called immigration neutrality, by ensuring they are subjected to the same consequences as citizens.
For a quick guide to the Philadelphia criminal justice system, click here.MORE RESOURCES
Immigration resources and information at Juntos
Free civil legal assistance from Community Legal Services
Legal and social services for low-income and at-risk immigrants and refugees at HIAS
Immigrant and refugee resources in different languages at Cap4Kids
Resources for newly arriving refugees, victims of human trafficking and unaccompanied children at Nationalities Service Center
Employment assistance and skills training are available for new immigrants at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
Immigrant rights advocacy through the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC)
IMMIGRATION COUNSEL: FOR VICTIMS AND WITNESSES
Ensuring victims and witnesses feel safe coming forward and cooperating with the justice system ultimately makes our communities safer.
Our goal is to create better relationships between law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities by encouraging victims and witnesses of crime to speak out, no matter their legal status. In doing so, we seek to curtail further marginalization of the immigrant population.
We walk immigrants through the criminal justice process, supporting their interactions with police and our prosecutors. We also help them get to court to testify, whether that’s transportation or translation services.
For those who cooperate, we can assist immigrants who have been victims of certain crimes secure specialized U and T visas. This includes juvenile immigrants arrested here on prostitution charges who were brought to this country as part of larger human trafficking activity. Email the Immigration Counsel to find out more.
We also help defendants who cooperate with police or prosecutors to secure specialized U/T visas. Since establishing the Immigration Counsel, the Office has reviewed over 150 U/T visa certifications.
As an important extension of our victim and witness advocacy, we have established a process where immigrant trafficking victims who have sought assistance with nonprofit collaborators, including HIAS, can contact our Immigration Counsel to make a direct connection to the Trafficking Unit at the Philadelphia Police Department.
IMMIGRATION COUNSEL: FOR DEFENDANTS
We seek to hold people—no matter their legal status—accountable for their crimes while seeking the most just outcomes.
We believe the serious crimes must be punished, but we also believe that low-level and nonviolent crimes should not lead to deportation or necessarily risk one’s immigration status.
Until the creation of an Immigration Counsel position at the District Attorney’s Office, there was no uniform way to evaluate each case involving immigrants to see if the right outcome meant an immigration-neutral one.
With over 400 cases reviewed since the start of these case-by-case reviews, we work to ensure prosecutions are tailored so defendants can avoid unnecessary and unjust consequences. In a few cases, we have helped defendants secure deferred action or early parole.
We coordinate with the United States Immgration and Customs Enforcement, although they are barred from accessing our local arraignment database. Police officers are expected to no longer ask immigration-related questions upon arrest, including their social security number and country of birth, as no one is now required to expose their immigration status.
We don’t ask nor share immigration-status information, but if it is voluntarily disclosed, we offer appropriate assistance.
IMMIGRATION COUNSEL: FOR IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES
Offering immigrant communities advice and guidance on navigating and cooperating with the criminal justice system.
We hold outreach and information sessions with immigrant groups at local community organizations, faith-based groups and other gathering places to ensure both their accountability and participation in the criminal justice process.
As a part of this effort, our Office also alerts immigrant communities about scammers who claim they can offer legal assistance with immigration, but end up only hindering citizenship plans and costing victims thousands of dollars.
IMMIGRATION COUNSEL: FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM STAKEHOLDERS
Building awareness throughout the system.
In most cases, officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others across law enforcement agencies and other criminal justice organizations are unaware how they can inadvertently jeopardize someone’s immigration status, sometimes unintentionally leading to unnecessary and unjust deportations.
For this reason, we have designed and implemented presentations and training workshops so that system stakeholders are educated about the potential impact of their work tied to someone’s immigration status.
This includes Continuing Legal Education (CLE) instruction to judges, lawyers, paralegals and other legal personnel on immigration topics.