Philly’s U.S. Attorney: Rape case shows ‘sanctuary city’ policy is ‘threat to public safety’

U.S. Attorney William McSwain (Emma Lee/WHYY)

U.S. Attorney William McSwain (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Juan Ramon Vasquez was sentenced to 21 months in prison Tuesday for illegally re-entering the United States — after he was deported to his native Honduras in 2009 — in a case that has epitomized the debate over so-called sanctuary cities.

Vasquez was previously convicted of raping a young child and is currently serving 8 to 20 years in state prison.

Vasquez, 50, was found back in the U.S. by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in 2014 and was placed in the custody of the Philadelphia Department of Prisons. Releasing him from prison, the city ignored an ICE detainer that would have kept him incarcerated. Vasquez then repeatedly sexually assaulted his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter, according to Philly.com.

U.S. District Judge Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro ruled that Vasquez will serve his sentences for illegal re-entry and sexual assault consecutively.

“The facts of this case illustrate all too well the direct threat to public safety caused by the City of Philadelphia’s sanctuary city policies,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a news release.  “After the city let this criminal loose on the streets of Philadelphia, Ramon-Vasquez repeatedly raped an innocent child.

“If the ICE detainer had been honored by local law enforcement, this crime never would have happened, and the victim would have been spared horrendous physical and mental trauma,” McSwain continued. “Criminals like Ramon-Vasquez take note: My office will do everything in its power to find you, to protect our community, and to seek justice for your victims. Unlike the Philadelphia government, we are not on your side.”

Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said the federal government failed to obtain an arrest warrant for Vasquez in 2014.

“If they had done so, the individual would have been released into their custody,” Dunn said in a statement. “We simply request that ICE obtain a warrant to ensure compliance with the United States Constitution. This request is not burdensome.”

He also said that a warrant signed by a judge — not an ICE detainer — is the needed documentation to hold someone in jail.

“Remember that when the Trump administration tried to force us to change our policies by imposing immigration-related conditions on federal criminal justice funding, we sued and a federal district court judge found that our policies — including our judicial warrant policy — were lawful,” he said.

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