“Mayor Kenney has terminated a controversial city contract that allows federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to access a key law-enforcement database, known as PARS, and use that information against undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding, immigrants in Philadelphia.
Mayor Kenney has terminated a controversial city contract that allows federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to access a key law-enforcement database, known as PARS, and use that information against undocumented but otherwise law-abiding immigrants in Philadelphia.
“I cannot in good conscience allow the agreement to continue,” the mayor said.
The decision, announced Friday, follows months of consultation with community groups, lawyers and immigrant advocates, and weeks of tumultuous protests by anti-ICE demonstrators, who on Wednesday took over and held a City Hall stairway.
ICE officials said they were “deeply disappointed with the city’s decision and criticized it as “needlessly compromising public safety.”
“Despite these attempts to obstruct ICE’s lawful efforts to apprehend criminal aliens, the agency remains committed to its efforts to uphold public safety in the city of Philadelphia,” ICE said in a statement.
The agency was informed of the cancelation on Thursday, in an emailed letter from City Solicitor Marcel Pratt.
Kenney made his announcement at City Hall, in a ceremonial room that quickly became the scene of raucous applause and cheering by many of the pro-immigrant groups that have long insisted the PARS agreement needed to end.
Blanca Pacheco came to City Hall surrounded by children, all of whom, she said, now know that raising their voices can create change. “They’re part of the work,” said the assistant director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.
Kenney said the loud, public demands of Occupy ICE demonstrators — still encamped outside City Hall as he spoke — played little role in his thinking. Crucial to him was the city’s legal standing, affirmed after a federal court victory last month, and providing humane treatment of people who came here from other lands.
“All of us have ancestors who were once immigrants,” the mayor said, choking up. “All of us.”
PARS is an acronym for a real-time computer database of arrests, operated by the city of Philadelphia and shared via contract with ICE, the agency responsible for finding and deporting people who are in the country without documentation.
Kenney said he had grown increasingly concerned that ICE was using the database “in inappropriate ways,” including to conduct investigations of undocumented immigrants who had not broken any other laws. That sows fear and distrust in immigrant communities, he said, with the effect of discouraging crime victims and witnesses from coming forward and, in turn, making it harder for Philadelphia police to solve crimes.
Discussions with ICE officials did not allay those concerns, but confirmed them, Kenney said.
Specifically, city officials said, multiple considerations led to the decision to not renew the contract, which expires Aug. 31. According to the Kenney administration:
— At a July 18 meeting, ICE officials conceded that the agency’s use of PARS can result in immigration enforcement actions against city residents who have not been accused or convicted of a crime.
— ICE claimed it was impractical to adopt procedures that would prevent agents from arresting law-abiding residents for civil immigration violations when the agency acted on information found in PARS.
— Each day, ICE probes PARS to find people who were born outside the United States, then targets them for further investigation, even though the database does not list their immigration status.
— The agency produced no information to allay city officials’ concerns about the profiling of residents by race, ethnicity, or national origin. In a letter to the city, ICE officials denied any sort of profiling.
Three city entities rely on PARS — the District Attorney’s Office, the court system, and the Police Department, which is responsible to the mayor. In the past, consensus among the three allowed the agreement with ICE to continue. Now both District Attorney Larry Krasner and the mayor have withdrawn their consent, and the court system, officials say, has abstained.
PARS does not collect information on immigration status. But immigration advocates contend the database is still dangerous, because it notes country of origin and Social Security number — enough for ICE agents to undertake an investigation.
“Data and speed is the perfect combo for ICE to use Philly resources to hunt down immigrants,” Juntos spokesperson Miguel Andrade tweeted earlier this month.
Kenney has been outspoken in support of immigrants, including filing a federal “sanctuary city” lawsuit against the Trump administration over the right to limit police cooperation with ICE. Last month, a federal judge ruled for Philadelphia, saying the city’s refusal to help enforce immigration laws was based on policies that were reasonable, rational, and equitable.
The PARS matter has simmered since the weather turned warm.
This month, as many as 175 demonstrators massed outside the Philadelphia office of ICE at Eighth and Cherry Streets, calling for the agency to be abolished, for the family detention center in Berks County to be shut down, and for the city government to end the PARS agreement.
An Occupy ICE encampment that was forcibly removed from the ICE office environs quickly relocated to the east side of City Hall.
“PARS is over,” activist Deborah Rose shouted through a megaphone as the mayor spoke inside. “It’s done.”
The 33-year-old West Philadelphia protester then led about a dozen protesters out of the camp into the street for a victory lap around JFK Boulevard.
Others felt the enthusiasm. “It’s exciting that this movement has really pushed [the mayor] to recognize the issue and address it,” said Michelle Ziogas, 27, who has been at the camp since it formed in late June.
It appeared as if the protest camp, adorned with signs and flags, was about to disappear.
Rose said city officials told people they had 24 hours to clear the grounds.
Mayoral spokesperson Mike Dunn said the group was informed of the deadline two weeks ago. It has nothing to do with PARS, he said. The construction project that’s chewing up ground on the northeast end of City Hall will expand to the east side on Monday, and crews need time over the weekend to prepare the new location, he said.
Xelba Gutiérrez, 34, said a delegation of Occupy ICE demonstrators would keep their previously scheduled Friday afternoon meeting with the mayor. “We’re going to discuss with him how, in the same way he needed time to make his decision, we need time to de-camp,” she said in Spanish.
In his letter notifying ICE field office Director Simona Flores of the termination, solicitor Pratt noted that the contract can be ended for any reason or no reason.
The decision is consistent with the administration’s “Welcoming City” policies, he wrote, “which reflect the principle that our city is safer, healthier and more inviting” when residents need not fear about their immigration status.
The PARS agreement “has created the false perception that the city is willing to be an extension of ICE,” he wrote.
Miriam Enriquez, the Kenney administration’s director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, called ending the PARS contract “the right decision.”
“Witnesses and victims of crime in our city will know they need not fear adverse immigration consequences when they report crimes or use services,” she said.