Kenney ends Philly police data-sharing deal with ICE to protect immigrants

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announces a coming end to the city's data-sharing contract with ICE (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announces a coming end to the city's data-sharing contract with ICE (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Updated 3:35 p.m.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney will not renew the city’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that permits the agency to access the city police department’s real-time arrest database known as PARS.

Protesters at City Hall have been calling for an end to the agreement that can put immigrants at risk of deportation for weeks, though Kenney says his decision was based on months of conversations with immigrants and immigrant rights groups.

On Friday, Kenney said his administration has been concerned about ICE’s use of the database. ICE officials confirmed at a private meeting that its use of the database can result in immigration enforcement against Philadelphians who have never been convicted or accused of a crime.

“Such practices sow fear and distrust in Philadelphia’s great immigrant community, and make it more difficult for our police department to solve crimes,” Kenney said in the release. “I cannot in good conscience allow the agreement to continue.”

Kenney said ICE officials have said it would be impractical to add safeguards to protect those not accused of crimes from deportation as a consequence of the agency’s use of the database.

The current contract is set to expire Aug. 31. ICE pays the city about $5,500 a year to access the database.

Although an individual’s immigration status is not included in the PARS database, it does include other information — including address, place of birth and any upcoming court dates — that makes it easier for ICE to track down unauthorized immigrants it wants to deport.

Another reason for ending the agreement, Kenney said, is that ICE often looks through the database for people who self-report that they weren’t born in the U.S. and then targets them for investigation without knowing whether they were in the country without authorization.

In an email to WHYY, ICE officials wrote that they are “deeply disappointed” with the city’s decision.

“As it has been repeatedly stated, ICE was at no point in breach of the terms of its access to PARS,” the ICE official said. “The city’s refusal to honor detainers, coupled now with the termination of the PARS contract, further restricts ICE from detaining individuals with pending criminal matters or criminal convictions, and only adds insult to injury by needlessly compromising public safety.”

The official said the agency will continue its efforts to “apprehend criminal aliens,” despite the obstruction of decade-long access to the PARS database.

City solicitor Marcel Pratt said the decision on not renewing the contract arrives after meeting with ICE officials and community meetings with Juntos and activists from Occupy ICE, the encampment outside of City Hall where demonstrators have been protesting the city’s partnership with ICE.

“As a result of this process, we have concluded that ICE’s use of PARS can result in arrests of otherwise law-abiding residents for civil immigration violations when the agency executes an operation due to information found in PARS,” Pratt said in the release. “This practice is antithetical to Philadelphia’s policies as a welcoming city, and the mayor rightfully decided that renewal was not in the best interest of the city and its residents.”

Miguel Andrade of Juntos said they have been fighting against the data sharing since the contract was first signed 10 years ago.

“The use of it was immoral,” Andrade said. “They were using it to hunt down our community members and [the non-renewal] is a step in the right direction to making Philadelphia as a whole completely safe.”

Kenney’s decision comes after weeks of continuous pressure from protesters outside of ICE’s Philadelphia headquarters at Eighth and Cherry streets and City Hall, community organizations and some city officials. Thursday, City Councilwoman Helen Gym called for an end to PARS.

After the announcement, the Twitter account behind the Occupy ICE protest tweeted in response to the end of the PARS agreement.

They also announced that three representatives from Occupy ICE were meeting with Kenney this afternoon to discuss more advocacy he can do for Philadelphia immigrants.

In an ongoing suit against Philadelphia, a sanctuary city, President Donald Trump’s administration wants to withhold $1.5 million in law enforcement grants until the city agrees to assist federal authorities in identifying undocumented immigrants.

Last month, a federal judge ruled in favor of the city, saying its refusal to comply with authorities like ICE is “reasonable, rational and equitable.”

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