Philadelphia Mayor Pressured to Stop Sharing Data With ICE (Updated)

“Any state that’s trying to be a sanctuary city needs to step up to be a leader of whatever that means, and that’s not an easy road, but I do think it’s the right road."

[Photo: Jim Kenney]
Mayor Jim Kenney has yet to announce whether he will renew a data-sharing contract between the police department and ICE forces. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE, July 27, 1:08 p.m.: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on Friday announced the end to ICE’s access to the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System criminal justice database.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) remains silent on his decision to renew the city’s data-sharing contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but the clock is ticking.

The growing national Abolish ICE movement inspired a march-turned-encampment in Philadelphia this month. As part of Occupy ICE PHL, local organizers and activists—many of whom experienced police brutality for peaceful protesting—called not only for the dismantlement and elimination of ICE, but for the shutdown of Berks County Detention Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania—one of three family detention centers nationwide—as well as for the city to end its PARS (Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System) agreement with ICE.

PARS is a computer database used by police to compile felony and misdemeanor arrest data. While the data doesn’t include citizenship status, it does include social security numbers and country of origin, information that can be used to racially profile immigrants, especially when shared with ICE.

While the contract expires August 31, the mayor’s office has yet to announce a decision.

While Philadelphia isn’t the only city with data-sharing contracts between the police department and ICE forces, activists like Occupy ICE demonstrator Rachel Rodriguez want to hold Kenney accountable to his promise to keep the city a sanctuary for undocumented people. 

Any state that’s trying to be a sanctuary city needs to step up to be a leader of whatever that means, and that’s not an easy road, but I do think it’s the right road,” Rodriguez stressed. “I want to remain hopeful in the sense that Philadelphia has always been one of the first places of resistance and revolution. I think it’s our history.”

Philadelphia has one of the most aggressive ICE offices in the United States, according to recent joint reporting by Philly.com and ProPublica. The office, which covers Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware, conducts more mass arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions than any other ICE field office. In 2017, 64 percent of immigrants detained by the Philadelphia ICE office didn’t have criminal backgrounds; the national rate of immigrants arrested without criminal backgrounds is 38 percent.

The city has … prided itself in being a sanctuary city, and it’s been since last year saying we need to expand the notion of sanctuary, so that there are better policies for immigrant communities, but [these policies like PARS are] just better policies around decriminalizing … black and brown folks,” Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, based in South Philadelphia, told Rewire News

The organization has organized the city’s first ever Community Resistance Zones, which call for neighbors of immigrants to “act as a sort of network to inform and aid one another in the case of unlawful abuse or raids from ICE and police,” Generocity reports. Juntos started the first campaign to shut down the Berks County Immigrant Detention Center years ago; this became the second demand of Occupy ICE PHL.

While a yes-or-no decision has yet to be made, Philly.com reports city officials requested a meeting with the local ICE office to discuss PARS on July 12. That meeting follows one with the local immigrant community last week. On July 10, Mayor Kenney met with community members—open to only those directly affected by immigration, according to Philly.com—to discuss PARS. The attendees—including Almiron and Rodriguez—were told the mayor’s office would make a decision “soon,” but they are uncertain whether his stance leans towards renewing or not.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office has taken a firm stance against the agreement. On July 11, District Attorney Larry Krasner released a statement stressing his opposition: “Let me be crystal clear: I will absolutely be a ‘no’ vote to provide additional access to PARS for I.C.E. The current arrangement shares information with I.C.E. in a way that should not continue.”

Meanwhile, more than 30 non-violent protestors are facing $50 citations. One demonstrator is suing a city police officer identified as Brian Gress for allegedly using excessive force during Occupy ICE protests this month, according to Philly.com.

The short answer is we [the District Attorney’s office] have no authority to dismiss those citations,” Ben Waxman, director of communications at the Philadelphia District Attorney Office, said in a statement to Rewire News. “The [Philadelphia Police Department] has the power to issue those summaries without approval from our office.”

Criminalizing demonstrators speaks to a larger issue of policing. At the July 10 meeting with Mayor Kenney, Rodriguez said a community member “spoke about what the encampment means for them and said that each of us [demonstrators at Occupy ICE PHL] represents a community member that is too afraid to fight for their rights right now and asked the mayor’s office to not punish us, to not arrest us.”