Seth Williams and the need to do the right thing: Say no to PARS.

There is word that tomorrow, three bodies- the Police (with heavy input from the Mayor), the Courts and the DA, will each get a vote in whether or not the city lets the federal immigration agency, or ICE, have access to our the Police Department Arrest Reporting System (PARS).

Guess who looks like they will be the swing vote? Our friend Seth Williams.

PARS information sharing is bad, bad news. It effectively lets federal immigration officials mine arrest data from the Philadelphia PD, to see the immigration status of anyone who is arrested. As PICC has noted in a letter to many of our elected officials, this is wrong for a number of reasons:

  • Members of immigrant communities will be less and less likely to report crimes, and will be less willing to serve as witnesses. Integrating ICE investigations with local police activities through programs like the PARS Agreement concerns not only immigrant communities, but also local law enforcement, t rely on community trust to do their jobs effectively. As a result of this reluctance to trust the police, our city as a whole will become less safe.
  • Through the PARS Access, ICE may be able to access victim and witness information. While the PARS Agreement with ICE attempts to limit further disclosure of that information, it does not go far enough. There is no reason that victims and witnesses should be exposed to possible deportation because of their cooperation in the reporting of a crime.
  • The PARS/ICE Agreement provides no real financial benefit to the City. According to the contract between the City of Philadelphia and ICE, the initial licensing fee paid by ICE was $13,065. The ongoing yearly renewal fee is only $5,565. For this renewal fee, the City agrees to provide a 24 hour hotline for support, on-site troubleshooting and updates to ICE. Therefore, the City is unlikely to lose any significant amount of money, and may actually save money by not renewing this contract.
  • Through the PARS system, ICE has access to information about every person arrested in the City of Philadelphia, United States citizens as well as immigrants, documented or otherwise. This has resulted in the extended detention of a number of United States citizens, due to ICE mistakes or database errors. ICE agents are charged with the enforcement of federal immigration law. Allowing these federal agents direct access to such extensive information is an overbroad approach to the intended purpose of providing information about a much narrower population.
  • The ICE-PARS data link also goes against the spirit of Mayor Nutter’s recent Executive Order No. 8-09, which mandates that immigrants should have access to city services without fear that their immigration status will be questioned or disclosed. The Executive Order includes direction on the narrow, specific situations in which law enforcement may ask about or share this information. This connection between the Philadelphia Police and ICE has created the sense that local police are indeed enforcing immigration laws.
  • The continuation of this direct data link will have an ongoing, negative impact on Census participation in Philadelphia, as many immigrant communities have developed an even greater distrust of officials as a result of this closer relationship between Philadelphia law enforcement and ICE.

Participating in PARS information sharing is a huge mistake, on so many levels.

The bottom line is that if you do this, you help create divisions and mistrust between immigrant communities and the PD and DA. Immigrants will see the police as nothing more than an immigration enforcement agency. It means less witnesses coming forward, including victims of domestic violence and others. It tears down the hard work that some offices- such as the Police Department- have done to gain the trust of immigrants communities.

Even on a purely selfish level- if you care about Philly, this is a bad idea, because a big part of the reason that pieces of our city have rebounded in the last few years is that since 2000 alone, tens of thousands of immigrants- documented and not- have come to Philly, revitalized neighborhoods and created jobs.

And they are potentially doing this all for a few pieces of gold...

The swing vote in all of this appears to be the District Attorney (with the Mayor/Police on the right side of things, and the Court on the wrong end.) It is not clear yet what they are planning to do.

Seth has done very good things in office so far- living up to the promise so many of us had. Let's hope that continues tomorrow, with his help in killing this misguided, cruel- and dumb- policy.


Updated to make clear that the issue is PARS info sharing with ICE, not PARS, itself.

Certainly, there are concerns, but......

But, on the other hand, shouldn't our governmental agencies be upholding the laws regarding this issue?

The simple answer is this:

The interests of our local government agencies - the police, the DA, the city government - are not identical with that of the federal government in pursuing immigration enforcement.

Rather, the police and DA particularly have a strong interest in being able to effectively prosecute crime and protect people in our city from being victimized. This takes trust - without trust that immigrants can interact with the police and DA without risking action from ICE, many (including victims and potential witnesses) will do whatever possible to avoid any interaction with local law enforcement and government.

City Council, the police, and the mayor have all recognized this, and have endorsed or put forth policies of non-inquiry into immigration status by local government.

I work in the office of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez.

I'm happy to see this crucial issue ...

... being discussed in this forum. The City's collaboration with ICE by giving it access to PARS may seem like an obscure technical issue, or it may confuse residents who don't understand why Philadelphians wouldn't want to see undocumented people "brought to justice."

Let me explain what it means for my undocumented clients. Anytime anyone undocumented is arrested in Philadelphia for any reason, they are turned over to ICE and placed into removal proceedings. Often they are then detained and sent elsewhere in the state, sometimes across the country. This includes: mothers of infant children, fathers who have been in the country for decades, victims of domestic violence, but most of all, the number one target for Philly PD and ICE under this policy, evidently the most dangerous population on the planet: Mexicans.

The current policy essentially gives PPD carte blanche to arrest Mexicans on any pretense, knowing that whether or not charges are later dismissed, as they often are, the target will likely be deported. The policy makes a mockery of any anti-racial profiling initiatives the City undertakes. And that is what I've seen as the phone calls come in from family members wondering where their husband/wife/parent/child has been taken. PPD and ICE collaborating to target Mexicans. (Also Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans, since law enforcement can't tell them apart from Mexicans.)

If you are a fan of racial profiling, you don't have to go to Arizona to find it. You don't even have to go to Bensalem or Bethlehem, though you'll certainly find it there. Just stay here in Philly and PPD has been happy to oblige.

Dave Bennion

also, i hope Seth Williams takes this opportunity ...

... to quiet any doubts Philadelphians might have about his commitment to protecting the City's immigrant communities. I've written before about those doubts and I hope that Williams and the City decide to protect, rather than persecute, those among the most vulnerable Philadelphians.

Dave Bennion

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