Philly debates ending cooperation with immigration

     Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez addresses City Council on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Accompanied by immigrant advocates, Sanchez called on the city to stop honoring immigration holds on people in police custody (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

    Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez addresses City Council on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Accompanied by immigrant advocates, Sanchez called on the city to stop honoring immigration holds on people in police custody (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

    Advocates for immigrants appeared with Philadelphia City Council members Thursday morning to call on the city to stop honoring immigration holds on those in police custody.

    Issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, these administrative holds request local police to keep someone up to 48 additional hours to facilitate transfer to federal custody.

    Blanca Pacheco, an organizer with the immigrant advocacy group New Sanctuary Movement, said people are already going through the criminal justice system before they’re detained and even deported for immigration reasons.

    “At this point, not only the individual is being punished, but also the family members who are left behind when they are deported,” she said.

    It’s a federal matter, according to Ubon Mendie, a spokesman for ICE.

    “The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities,” Mendie said. But City Councilman Jim Kenney echoed Pacheco, saying Philadelphia can do its own public safety enforcement.

    “We have a great police department. We have a great district attorney. He has a great charging unit. We have great judges and a great court system,” Kenney said. “And I think we ought to be able to sort it out ourselves without involving any other governmental entity.” The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Mayor Michael Nutter has drafted an executive order that would curb, but not end, holding people on behalf of ICE. Specifically, the city would keep only those who have been charged with violent felonies for ICE.

    Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said the administration is not prepared to talk publicly about any proposal.

    “When we make public the executive order, of course, we would certainly be willing to talk about why we’ve chosen to do what we’re doing,” he said.

    Advocates say immigrants will still fear going to the police as long as officers cooperate with ICE. 

    At a community meeting a few weeks ago in the basement of a Catholic church in South Philadelphia, a precinct captain told a roomful of immigrants they might want to look at alternatives to calling the police over domestic violence if they’re worried about deportation of their partners.

    “ICE holds are not a public safety issue,” said Villanova University visiting law professor Caitlin Barry. “ICE holds determine whether that person is turned over to immigration for a second level of punishment.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.