When police mistakenly accused North Philly resident Fernando Ruiz of hiding a fugitive in his house one evening in May 2010, it seemed the situation couldn’t get worse. A policeman had struck him in the head with a pistol; others arrived and began beating him on the street. One held a gun to his wife’s head, right in front of their 4- and 6-year-old children. And Ruiz was arrested, taken to the hospital and then jail.
But it did get worse — much worse — his wife, Ana, says through a translator. “I told the police I wanted to go to the hospital with them and they told me, ‘No. If you go to the hospital, then we’ll arrest you also.’ They said, ‘Go home and wait for us to call you.’ The call never came.”
Ruiz (not his real name) was an undocumented Mexican immigrant. So instead of being released on bail, he was handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), where deportation proceedings began before his criminal case was even heard. That’s because Philadelphia has an unusual collaboration with ICE that allows the agency to access Philly’s Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System database. Further, the city honors “ICE holds” by detaining people who might be in line for deportation. Or, as Nicole Kligerman, of the immigrant-rights group New Sanctuary Movement puts it, “it makes the Philly Police a wing of immigration.”
Activists say it’s time that changed. The license is up for renewal in August. So, on Wednesday, New Sanctuary supporters wrapped up a 40-day fast to demand an end to police-ICE collaboration in Philly. They estimate that the city has spent at least $500,000 since 2008 on ICE holds; the license pays only $5,600 a year. Says Kligerman, “It has resulted in a lot of tacit racial profiling ... and created a lot of fear.”
Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison says he believes that the PARS access doesn't give ICE information that they wouldn''t already get through the FBI as part of the federal Secure Communities initiative. He says data-sharing between law-enforcement agencies is helpful and something the administration supports. However, he says that he is actively reviewing the issue of ICE holds and whether they are being deployed appropriately.
"We have always advocated that ICE should be staying consistent with their Secure Communities idea, that if they're going to hold anyone then it should be people who are serious, Level-1 threats. We believe from the information that we're getting from them that they are holding quite a lot of people who do not meet that criteria, by their own standards. How can the program be stated in one way and acted on in another? We're working to have them be a lot more selective about who a hold should be exercised on, and that dialog is continuing."
Gillison says that, when it comes to honoring ICE hold requests, Philly has to look at what other cities have done and what the fallout has been. "We're doing our due diligence to find out what our options are."
The bottom line, he says, is to detain those who are not dangerous "it is a waste of federal resources to go after them. We don't think it does anything but destabilize communities. … But that's federal policy. We want to be able to influence federal policy as much as possible."
The DA, the mayor and Municipal Court President Judge together can decide whether to end the license. When it came up for renewal in 2010, Mayor Nutter took a stand against using it to pick up witnesses or victims for deportation, but did not terminate the agreement. The DA did not respond to inquiries by press time.
For the Ruizes, though, the damage is done. Fernando was acquitted in June 2010. This year, he finally received a U-visa, given to victims of crime. His wife is seeking the same. But in the meantime, he lost his job and paid thousands in legal fees; the whole family needed therapy to deal with the trauma. Ana says she just wants the system to change — and for police and ICE to be run separately. Because, she says, “to be here is not a crime.”
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