Philly immigrant groups accuse federal officials of preying on people passing through courthouse

The group says immigration officials are lurking inside and outside the courts to catch undocumented immigrants and hold them.

ICE officials

In this file photo, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter a building. (David Duprey/AP Photo)

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Immigrant rights groups joined together outside the Criminal Justice Center to lodge allegations that immigration officials are preying on those accused of crimes in the city.

Erika Guadalupe Nunez, executive director of Juntos, a community-led immigrant rights organization, said federal officials are preying on people arrested in Philadelphia for holding and deportation — citing a dozen arrests in the past year.

“We have heard of numerous cases. Whereas ice officers are detaining immigrant community members just as they leave the criminal justice center,” she said. “Many folks detained are still in criminal proceedings … others have had their charges dismissed, and others have fully participated in their legal process and accepted sentencing only to be doubly punished with their forced attention at Moshannon Valley processing center.”

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Anna Pelico of the New Sanctuary Movement spoke through an interpreter to say she frequently hears of similar issues.

“I get so frustrated because I don’t know how to help them as they are telling me about what they are going through,” Pelico said.

Members of the legal community also joined in to denounce the arrests, claiming they undermine Philadelphia’s status as a welcoming city and needlessly impact vulnerable individuals and families.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner believes it’s keeping people away from the court system.

“I need victims who will come forward without fear. ICE is wrecking that for undocumented people,” Krasner said. “I need witnesses who will come forward without fear, witnesses for victims who are U.S. citizens, witnesses for victims who are not U.S. citizens. ICE is wrecking that.”

Krasner added that he has personally seen undocumented people being preyed upon because they cannot report crimes against them.

“I can point you very specifically to people I know of who are contractors. Who are undocumented. Who work 14-hour days and have been here for a decade. Who are specifically targeted by criminals in the United States who know that they’re not in a position to be able to call the police if their tools are stolen … if a gun is pointed at them … and their money is taken — that is happening with victims… it’s happening with witnesses.”

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Chief Defender Keisha Hudson from the Defender Association of Philadelphia also had stories to tell.

ICE’s practice of roaming the courthouse Halls sitting outside of courtrooms and literally seizing people as they step foot outside of this Courthouse undermines, the Court’s ability to provide equal access to Justice and shatters confidence in the safety of the courthouse and the judicial system,” Hudson said.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials failed to respond to e-mail and phone requests for comment.

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