Election 2019

Ballot question: Should Philly have a permanent office to help immigrants?

The Office of Immigrant Affairs is currently only temporary.

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Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn
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UPDATE May 22: This question was approved with 74 percent of the vote.

Philly’s 230,000 immigrant residents count on services from the Office of Immigrant Affairs — an establishment whose fate is uncertain, since each new mayor can either continue or halt its services.

Now, you get to choose: Should the OIA last forever in Philly?

What you’ll see on the ballot

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to establish and define the functions of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, headed by a Director of Immigrant Affairs?

What does it mean?

Philly’s Office of Immigrant Affairs was conceived by former Mayor Michael Nutter, who in early 2013 used an executive order to create a centralized office for immigrant resources.

What exactly does the office do? Its mission is to promote immigrants’ well-being and better incorporate their voices into the decisions of city government. This can mean:

  • Facilitating the translation of official city documents into other languages
  • Coordinating citizenship initiatives
  • Training immigrants and employers in workers’ rights
  • Having bilingual staffers who can help ESL Philadelphians connect with services

Since its inception, OIA has helped coordinate the municipal ID program and the city’s response to federal moves like the refugee ban and the threat to end DACA. The office also runs regular events to celebrate global culture. Coming up: a world music event at Tacony’s Free Library branch, a Latinx film festival, and a Caribbean art show.

It’s still around because Mayor Jim Kenney has opted to keep it going. If a new mayor were elected who didn’t care for it as much, they could disband the office altogether.

This ballot measure seeks to prevent that possibility from coming to fruition. If passed, it would integrate the OIA into the City Home Rule Charter, turning it into a permanent fixture that no mayor could individually decide to discontinue.

In some ways, this vote will be an audit on Philly’s persistent sanctuary city status, voicing the public’s response to immigrant outreach.

Who’s for it and who’s against it

For

  • Mayor Jim Kenney and his Managing Director Brian Abernathy
  • City Council, which voted to pass the resolution for this ballot initiative, especially the cosponsors of the bill: Councilmembers Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Jannie Blackwell and Helen Gym
  • Current OIA staffers, who wrote an op-ed on the subject

Against

There hasn’t been a ton of advocacy against this ballot measure, although it’s safe to say Philly’s stock of immigration hardliners probably wouldn’t vote in its favor — ditto fiscal conservatives who feel City Hall is already overrun with offices.

What other questions are on the ballot?

Access the full Billy Penn procrastinator’s guide to the May primary election here.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2019 stories.

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