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To help immigrants, stop towing their cars, activists say

As nation seethes over DACA, Philly activists ask mayor to help immigrants.
Immigrant advocacy group New Sanctuary Movement rallied at City Hall to support DACA. (Provided)

Mayor Jim Kenney can't reverse President Trump's vow to end the Obama-era DACA program in six months. But, immigrant advocates say, he can make other changes to improve the lives of undocumented residents.

Advocates from local immigration non-profit New Sanctuary Movement Philly, elected officials and religious leaders delivered 3,100 petitions Thursday asking for an end to 'Livestop,' a program used to automatically tow cars of people without a driver's license, registration or insurance.

According to New Sanctuary Movement, in 2016, the program affected 15,000 people and earned the Philadelphia Parking Authority $6.5 million towing, storage fees, and auctioning cars.

"Livestop penalizes poor people in Philadelphia, including immigrants, who drive to meet their basic needs by towing their cars," organizers from New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) said. "Undocumented people in the state of Pennsylvania do not have a legal right to a driver’s license in the first place, which means that they are at immediate risk of losing their cars regardless of the reason they are initially stopped for."

NSM member Silvia Rodrigues described having her car towed: “I was so sad and angry because I had just received my check and I had to use it to pay to get my car back," she said. "For the next two weeks, I had to borrow money from friends and family to make ends meet.”

Kenney's spokeswoman Lauren Hitt such changes would have to be made at the state level.

"Unfortunately, any changes to the Livestop program have to be addressed at the state level," Hitt said. "If we tried to make changes locally, our officers would have to ask immigrants' status information, which no one wants; or we’d risk people who don’t have a license for good reasons, like a long history of DUIs, getting their car back and hurting someone."

But NSM organizers were clear that they want Kenney to use his authority to help immigrants in Philly: "Mayor Kenney may not have the power to save DACA, but he does have the power to act locally to support the immigrant community," organizers said.

The group also rallied in support of DACA, the Obama-era program that provides so-called Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, a path to citizenship through eligibility for work permits.

Trump announced on Sept. 5 that Obama's DACA program would end in six months, and called on Congress to replace it with a new, similar program by that time.

Kenney previously said ending DACA would be a "tragedy... detrimental to our health as a nation and inherently un-American."