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Immigration advocates: city cops shouldn’t share arrest data with feds

For the past four years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has had access to the city's Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS), a real-time arrest database used by the Philadelphia Police Department, the District Attorney's Office and Philly's courts. Advocates say the data sharing is prone to abuse.

New Sanctuary Movement protestors stopped outside of Mayor Michael Nutter's office Thursday. Photo by Emma Lee for Newsworks.
An immigrant-rights group wants the City of Philadelphia to stop sharing its real-time arrest database with immigration enforcement, it announced during a protest last week, saying the relationship causes undocumented immigrants to fear the police and not speak up about crimes.

For the past four years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has had access to the city’s Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS), a real-time arrest database used by the Philadelphia Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and Philly’s courts. ICE can see information about recently arrested individuals, sometimes including their country of citizenship, and asks the police to detain certain suspects so that ICE can take them into custody to potentially deport them.

The program is meant to help ICE deport undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes, but advocates from immigrant-rights group New Sanctuary Movement say it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, one 26-year-old undocumented immigrant is facing deportation even after the charges against him were dropped, said New Sanctuary Movement’s Blanca Pacheco to the Daily News.

“It happens immediately,” Pacheco told Philly in an interview earlier this summer, speaking about ICE’s power to detain arrested individuals and begin deportation proceedings. “There’s no due process, there’s not even a chance to be found innocent or guilty.”

What’s more, Pacheco said, the ICE-PARS collaboration drives undocumented immigrants to fear the police. One won’t, for example, report a domestic violence complaint for fear of getting her partner deported.

ICE can access PARS because of a two-year license that it purchases from the city for $5,600. That license, which went up for renewal on Aug. 31, was expected to be renewed — not confirmed as of publish time — because there’s no information that says ICE is abusing its access to PARS, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison told Philly.

Still, the city does not support ICE holding and deporting undocumented immigrants who are “low-level” offenders, Gillison said. The city is working with ICE on this issue, he told the City Paper in July.

  • ICE in Philadelphia has deported 5,266 people so far this fiscal year, said ICE spokesman Harold Ort, of which 3,407 — or about 60 percent — were convicted of crimes.
  • Philly’s rate of criminality among deported immigrants is just above the national average. Nationally, about 57 percent of those that ICE deported so far this fiscal year were convicted of crimes, Ort said.
  • This percentage has been steadily rising nationwide since 2008, when 31 percent of people deported were convicted of crimes, he said. This is because, three and a half years ago, ICE decided to focus on deporting criminals.

It’s important to note, though, says New Sanctuary Movement’s Nicole Kligerman, that ICE also classifies “criminals” as those who have re-entered the country after deportation, so this data reflects that.

When asked for more specific data on the number of suspects transferred between Philadelphia Police and ICE, the number of those suspects that were eventually convicted and the nature of the criminal charges (violent “Part 1 crimes” or otherwise), Ort declined to comment. But in 2011, Metropolis reported that, according to ICE data:

  • “238 of the 421 Philadelphia suspects transferred from Philadelphia Police to ICE custody between October 27, 2008 and February 28, 2011 were never convicted of a crime.”

It’s not the first time immigrant rights advocates have called for the city to end ICE’s PARS license, lobbying the city two years ago, when the license was up for renewal for the first time. Advocates did score a victory in 2010 when Mayor Michael Nutter announced that ICE would no longer be able to see names of victims and witnesses in PARS.

How and why the city uses PARS

Philadelphia police and other agencies began using PARS in 1997, after the city lost a lawsuit that said it was not processing suspects quickly enough. The city previously used a paper system to process suspects, Gillison said, and it was so slow that suspects sometimes had to wait one whole weekend before they could see a judge. PARS cut the length of the process roughly in half, said one Office of Innovation and Technology staffer who works with PARS, taking it from a 30-hour process to a 15-hour process.

Every time an officer makes an arrest, she enters data about the offender and the crime into PARS. The District Attorney’s Office uses PARS to charge the offender, while the court system accesses that data and uses a video system to read the offender her charges and set bail.

The city plans to replace PARS as part of its $120 million IT upgrade project.

ICE isn’t the only law enforcement agency that has access to PARS: Amtrak Police, SEPTA Police and police from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University all pay for access to the system, Gillison said. These police forces use PARS to transmit information to the Philadelphia Police Department about arrests they’ve made.

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Philadelphia Police Department

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