Immigrant Groups Call For End of Police Cooperation with ICE
Mexico played Argentina in the World Cup elimination round yesterday, but many Philadelphia residents native to Mexico had more important things on their mind. More than 300 people, including a large number of Mexican immigrants, attended a public forum on immigrant rights yesterday afternoon, organized by the New Sanctuary Movement and other advocacy groups at the Annunciation B.V.M. Catholic Church in South Philadelphia.
The groups are asking for an end to collaboration between the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The meeting was conducted mostly in Spanish, with translation offered in English and Indonesian. Speakers took the stage to recount stories of friends and family delivered to immigration officials by the police, from immigrants who were stopped while driving, those who were questioned as witnesses to other crimes and a child who was arrested at school.
The conclusion of all speakers was that they no longer trust the PPD and are not comfortable approaching the police under any circumstances, even if witness or victim to a crime.
The PPD and ICE officially collaborate in two ways: The police give ICE access to the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS), which lists the nationality of people in police custody. Furthermore, the federal Secure Communities program provides ICE finger-prints of anyone arrested by the police.
There have also been allegations of joint sting operations between ICE and the police, although these were not addressed at the meeting. Last November Mayor Nutter issued executive order 8-09 barring police and other city officials from asking anyone’s immigration status except in cases required by law.
The centerpiece of yesterday’s forum was a giant petition in Spanish and English calling for an end to police and ICE collaboration. In order to foster better relations with the police, the petition requested four changes:
- The city should not renew its agreement with ICE that grants the feds access to the PARS database.
- The city should reject the “Secure Communities” initiative.
- All city employers should sign the mayor’s directive 8-09.
- Directive 8-09 should be increased in scope to bar city employees from contacting ICE.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison and other city officials were in attendance, while District Attorney Seth Williams was invited, but did not show up. Instead, there was a blown-up cardboard cutout of the DA’s already considerably sized noggin.
The crowd chanted for Gillison to sign the petition in a space provided for him, but he declined, saying he was not permitted because the city was not in agreement on all points.
However, Gillison did say it was the mayor and other officials’ view that the PARS agreement should not be extended and they expect to make an official announcement shortly.
“The city’s view is that the police do not do federal immigration work. It is not their job to do. Period,” Gillison said.
However, he pointed out that the Secure Communities program is a federal mandate. The police are required by law to supply information to the state, which in turn has to deliver it to federal immigration officials.
“The bottom line is it’s a national issue we have to address,” said Gillison, recommending that the groups agitate President Obama and Congress on the issue.
“It is fear that kills, it is fear that makes us cowards,” Gillison said, telling the communities that they must not be afraid to engage with the police despite their negative interactions in the past. He mentioned that the only way for the city to find and reprimand officers who violate directive 8-09 is if the community reports them.
Seventh District Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez attended the forum and promised to continue pressing the city on immigrant rights. “We don’t want anybody to live in fear,” she said.
South Philadelphia’s Third Police District Captain Michael Weaver also spoke briefly, pledging to meet with community leadership to improve public safety.
By the time the meeting let out, Mexico had lost to Argentina 3-1, but disappointed expatriates could take some comfort in what they view as positive movement from the mayor’s office to end the PARS agreement.