Philadelphia City Council is looking at ending a policy of police cooperation with immigration agents. At issue is whether to honor requests from the federal office to detain immigrants until they can be transferred to federal custody.
By a show of applause, most of those crowding a City Council hearing Wednesday support ending police cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Advocates for immigrants say the policy has created mistrust of police in their communities.
While heavily outnumbered, members of PA for Immigration Control and Enforcement got into a heated argument with Council members — demonstrating how the ICE holds have become a flashpoint in the national debate over immigration policy.
“Do we pick and choose what laws we’re going to enforce?” asked Vincent Weston, a PA for ICE representative.
Mayor Michael Nutter is prepared to limit cooperation, said city public safety representative Michael Resnick. The mayor is working on an executive order that police turn over only those convicted of violent first- and second-class felonies.
Council members — among them Maria Quiñones-Sanchez — say Nutter’s order will get the city most of the way toward its goal.
“For the advocates — this is your victory. This is historic,” said Quiñones-Sanchez to applause that sounded half-hearted. Many of those who testified at the hearing argued that Philadelphia should stop honoring all ICE holds.
Naroen Chhin said his organization, 1Love Movement, was created at a time when a lot of young Cambodian refugees such as himself who’d been convicted of crimes were being deported. Legal permanent residents can also be deported for certain crimes.
Chhin has a felony conviction but was also a citizen.
“I ask myself this question every day,” he testified, “Why did I get to stay and my friends do not? Why are they treated differently? Where is the second chance in that? Where is the opportunity to turn their lives around?”
According to city data, the number of ICE detainers lodged with Philadelphia prisons has plummeted from 424 in the calendar year 2011 to 137 in 2013. ICE also sends hold requests directly to local police precincts but the city has not tracked them.
ICE provided numbers for the area including Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, including federal facilities, that show total detainers declining from 823 in the 2011 budget year to 587 detainers in the 2013.
Other cities — including Newark, New York and Chicago — have already limited or ended police cooperation with the immigration agency.