Protesters intent on abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have now focused efforts on pressuring Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney and city officials to end the city’s contract with ICE, which grants it access to a real-time arrest database.
On Monday protesters set up camp at an ICE office at Eighth and Cherry streets, but police cleared out the encampment Thursday. On Friday, the protest moved to the northeast corner of City Hall where organizers were reportedly told no tents are allowed.
The real-time arrest database, known as the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, holds defendant information such as name, address, place of birth, and upcoming court dates. Immigration status is not included, but many believe there is enough information for ICE to draw conclusions about that and target individuals.
Brian, who declined to give his last name, said the 20 or so demonstrators plan to stay put for as long as it takes.
“We’re going to be here as long as that is the law,” he said. “We’re going to have a presence here.”
On Friday, the first day of that presence, they used umbrellas and tarps to shield themselves from heavy rains.
“I think it’s really important for the City Council to remember that it’s an election season coming up,” Brian continued. “It’s really a great opportunity for them to show who they really care about in their constituency and stand up for the immigrant community.”
Aiming to prevent another Occupy
Removing the protesters from their first location was meant to prevent a repeat of what happened in Dilworth Plaza seven years ago, Kenney said Friday.
In 2011, as cities across the country were embroiled in the Occupy Wall Street movement, hundreds of demonstrators camped out on the west side of City Hall. After weeks of occupying the area, they were evacuated by police.
More than 50 people were arrested, and the city settled a $200,000 lawsuit with protesters who claimed their civil rights were violated.
The protesters assembled at the hem of City Hall are welcome to stay, Kenney said, as long as they don’t block entrances or threaten public safety.
“The protesters, I admire the fact that they are dedicated to ending this,” he said. “They’re outraged at the way children have been treated at the border. I am outraged, the way children are treated at the border. And I want them to continue to protest.”
Not everyone trusts the mayor’s sentiment, however. Goby, 77, a West Philadelphia artist taking part in the City Hall protest, participated in the 2011 Occupy demonstration from the beginning to end.
Despite Kenney’s rhetoric on immigration, Goby dismissed him as an ICE enabler by removing the protesters from the original location.
“He prevented people from really stopping the use of that ICE facility,” Goby said. “The words that he showered out about no encampments and following the law, as far as I’m concerned, is just BS.”
In June a federal judge found it unconstitutional that the Department of Justice withheld a federal crimefighting grant because of the city’s sanctuary status.
The federal government can still appeal that ruling, and Kenney said he doesn’t want to risk a reversal. He’s considering that as he weighs whether to end or renew the contract that expires Aug. 31.
“I want to make sure with our city solicitor we’re stepping forward in a positive way,” he said. “And protecting that order, which is very important nationally. It’s one of those orders that affect everyone nationally. So we don’t want to do anything that’s going to rile the appellate court, necessarily, and reverse the judge’s decision.”