Philadelphia to bar immigration agents from arrest data

Audience members at the Sunday meeting listen to one of the speakers who shared stories about encounters with police and how the city-federal cooperation adversely affected their lives.
Audience members at the Sunday meeting listen to one of the speakers who shared stories about encounters with police and how the city-federal cooperation adversely affected their lives.
Posted: June 28, 2010

Philadelphia is expected to end the arrangement that permits federal immigration agents to scrutinize the city's computerized list of arrests, including country of origin and other data, Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety, said Sunday.

Immigrant advocates say the year-old agreement between the city and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, known as ICE, has resulted in deportation proceedings against immigrants arrested on even minor charges. Under the agreement, ICE agents can routinely access the city's Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS). That agreement is up for renewal on Thursday.

"It is the mayor's view that the PARS agreement should not be extended," Gillison said, speaking at a South Philadelphia church meeting attended by more than 300 immigrants and their supporters.

He said there would be a formal announcement of the city's position in the coming week, probably on Friday.

Mayor Nutter has expressed concern about the human rights of all immigrants, regardless of their legal status.

In a directive he issued a year ago, he barred municipal employees on official business from inquiring about the immigration status of any person, including, but not limited to, victims, witnesses, arrestees, and detainees.

Gillison said Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and District Attorney Seth Williams "agree with the mayor" that the ICE-PARS arrangement should be terminated.

His announcement, which followed an hour of public testimony from immigrants about their fears and mistrust of the police, drew chants of Si, se puede! - Yes, we can! - from a mostly Latino audience that also included members of the city's Asian communities and a contingent of suburban supporters from the Central Baptist Church of Wayne.

Organized by a coalition of proimmigrant groups, including Juntos and the New Sanctuary Movement, the standing-room-only meeting took place in the basement of Annunciation Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary on South 10th Street. It was conducted mostly in Spanish, with electronic headsets available to permit simultaneous translation into English.

In addition to Gillison, officials in attendance included City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez; Police Capt. Michael Weaver, commander of the immigrant-rich Third District in South Philadelphia; and Leslie Davila, assistant director of Victims' Services, who represented the District Attorney's Office but who left before the end of the meeting without addressing the group.

Because Williams did not attend, someone had filled the seat reserved for him with a large cardboard cutout of the district attorney's face.

"This is about human rights. It's about civil rights," Sánchez said. "And I am very, very encouraged by [the administration's] movement around PARS."

Some of the speakers who provided testimony about their encounters with police used their real names. Others used pseudonyms. They spoke from a lectern decorated with a poster that said, "Public Safety Now."

One man, who gave his name as Ignacio Aguirre, described the arrest of his son. He said the boy had been at the beach, where he used a knife to cut a watermelon. He put the knife into a backpack. Several days later, without thinking about it, he took the backpack to school and tripped a metal detector. It was an innocent mistake, the man said, but it resulted in a visit from ICE and house arrest with an ankle bracelet for his child.

He did not elaborate on the status of the case but said, "Now I'm afraid to call the police for anything."

Guadalupe Hernandez said she came to the United States from Mexico in 1996 to escape domestic abuse. She said her 16-year-old son was arrested in Philadelphia in 2007 while trying to stop a drunk friend from slashing car tires on Dickinson Street.

"My son tried to take the knife away," she said, but when police arrived, he found himself arrested "as an accomplice."

Although the boy eventually was exonerated, she said, "ICE wants to deport him."

Mark Medvesky, a spokesman for ICE in Philadelphia, said he could not comment in detail about the city's intentions regarding PARS until it took formal action.

But he did say, "Our priority is convicted criminal aliens, getting dangerous people off the street. That's one of the reasons we wanted access to PARS."


Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com.

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