State rep.: I was ‘ambushed’ by immigration activists

State rep.: I was ‘ambushed’ by immigration activists
Charles Mostoller

Philadelphia Republican state Rep. Martina White continues to do battle withactivists angered by her legislationto terminate Philadelphia’s sanctuary city status.

The conflict got heated this week when activists went to White’s office to meet, culminating in her shouting at them to leave after one criticized her for using the words “these people” to refer to immigrants, all caught on cellphone camera video.

“As I have said on numerous occasions, including during the ambush meeting with activists for illegal immigration, I fully support legal immigration and the diversity it brings to our country, as well as immigrants who have followed the law to get here,” White said in a statement on the confrontation.

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“My legislation focuses on only one issue: upholding federal law as it applies to illegal immigrants — from any country — who break the laws of the United States. Certain activists wanting to push their own agenda have tried to twist this simple fact to suit their own purposes,” she continued.

Al Dia, Philly’s bilingual Latino newspaper, first posted video and audiofrom the encounter between White and members of various organizations including Juntos, New Sanctuary Movement, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), and Make the Road PA.

Theaudiorecording starts with White telling the activists, “I think it’s very rude to barge into someone’s office without an appointment,” but welcoming them inside anyway.

One member of the group tells White, “I think your bill on sanctuary cities divides, is hateful. I think it does not serve any real purpose other than to hurt people.”

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Another brings up “the rhetoric and ideas” of the bill and asks White if she wants to be “Trump in Pennsylvania.”

“I don’t feel that I need to respond to that,” White says in theaudio recording. “Number one, I want you to know that my bill has no rhetoric in it. It is specifically to uphold federal law.”

Things begin to deteriorate around there.

Moments later, when Almiron criticized White for using the phrase “these people,” White shouted at the activists to leave her office, caught on video below.

White, who toldPennlive.comshe reacted strongly to the activists because she was “frightened” by the group of 10 to 15 people in her office, and that afterwards she went to a ceremony to rename part of State Road after fallen Philly firefighter and Battalion Chief Michael Goodwin.

“She invited us in, it was not an ambush … and things escalated pretty quickly,” Almiron said of the encounter. “I think Martina hasn’t been raised around a lot of diversity, and she doesn’t have any way of defending her position.”

Almiron said they were in Harrisburg that day, along with more than 100 immigrants, for Advocacy Day, organized by PICC, and the group of activists went to visit numerous legislators.

“Our goal was to have her hear some stories of people who were in the group … She wouldn’t let us speak. She didn’t want to hear from us,” she said.

White’s anti-sanctuary city legislation, which was introduced last month,has attracted virulent opposition in Philly, where activistslobbied former Mayor Michael Nutter for monthsto institute sanctuary city status via executive order.

Phildelphia became a sanctuary city under the Nutter administration, but as one of his last acts in office, Nutter amended his order to renew some cooperation with immigration authorities. Philadelphia once again became a santuary city when Mayor Jim Kenney immediately re-instituted the earlier policy on his first day in office.

Activists say “sanctuary cities,” where local law enforcement is discouraged from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, encourages members of immigrant communities to trust law enforcement and to be able to report crime without fear of potentially putting themselves at risk for deportation. But the “sanctuary city” concept has also come under criticism for allowing some immigrants to remain in the country who are later charged with various crimes.

Whitepreviously introduced a bill to prevent police departments from identifying officersinvolved in shootings. The anti-sanctuary city legislation, HB 1885, would apply statewide and hold sanctuary cities “liable” for damages to people or property caused by “unauthorized aliens.”

It also would prohibit restrictions on notifying federal immigration authorities about potential illegal immigrants, letting law enforcement ask people about their immigration status or requesting proof of eligibility in state benefits applications.

White continued to defend her legislation in her statement on the incident.

“I stand by this legislation as something that is needed to help protect the people of Philadelphia from crimes committed by those who are here illegally, and I know that the residents of my district stand with me.”