Samuel S. Fels Fund


Fels Insights

Article / Opinion

Testimony of Samuel S. Fels Fund

In Support of the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP)

Submitted to the Fiscal Year 21 City Council Budget Hearing

Dear Council President Clarke,

As a Philadelphia resident and President of the Samuel S. Fels Fund, I urge Philadelphia City Council to restore funding of $200,000 for PAIFUP’s deportation defense services, which was zeroed-out of the revised proposed FY21 executive budget.

City leadership has stated that they are prioritizing public-private partnerships, equity, health, and safety in budgetary decisions, and yet removing their $200K commitment to legal representation of immigrants detained by ICE indicates otherwise. The budget reflects our collective values, and what is currently under consideration proposes dramatic underfunding of critical community investments. We need to invest and build trust in our communities by standing in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors, releasing nonviolent offenders from detention and prisons, ensuring access to healthy and affordable housing, safe and strong public education, jobs with living wages, healthcare, food, and yes, arts & culture — especially now. This is how we can begin to heal deep racial and economic fractures in our beloved Philadelphia, restore public trust and compacts, and live up to our unfulfilled promise as the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection for ALL our residents.

Regarding public-private partnerships, the Fels Fund provided $100K to PAIFUP earlier this year and had an agreement with the Mayor through the Managing Director’s Office that we would add another $100K when the City matches with $200K in the FY21 budget.  The City’s figure of $200K is not an arbitrary number – together with Fels’ grant, it gets us to the minimum dollars necessary to continue the critical deportation defense work that has already begun.  If the City does not keep its commitment for this relatively small amount of money, the entire program is at risk.  And why, you may ask, not just fund it with private dollars?  Ultimately, universal representation is not possible  without investment of public dollars, and we know it has been prioritized in other jurisdictions where there are austerity measures including Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Prince George’s County, and Los Angeles precisely because of the benefits to health and safety.    

We are deeply concerned about the survival of those infected with the virus who are being held at ICE facilities.  In prisons where testing has occurred, 80-90% of those detained have tested positive for the virus. These are Philadelphia residents who are at risk of dying in detention.  Economically, these families are left out of all Federal stimulus supports.  The ripple effects of this are horrific from every angle, and representative of the way we allow our systems to lead to the killing of Black, Brown, Indigenous and other people of color.  

Finally, this is the first time during my four-year tenure as President of the Fels Fund that we embarked on a public-private partnership with the City and we are counting on its success because the stakes, as outlined above, are dire.  We are hoping that a successful partnership between the City and the Fels Fund will lead to other opportunities for collaboration.  

We realize you have many difficult decisions ahead and wish you continued good health, strength, and stamina as you and your team lead our City through this crisis.  Thank you for your consideration.  

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