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Breaking The I.C.E. Holds   

Philadelphia City Council “Getting It Right” on Immigration

 J.Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia – City Council began the first stage of an examination of the administrative and financial cost, along with the practical necessity of the city’s ongoing collaboration with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this week, and specifically looked at the use of “ICE holds” prior to deportation.  

   An ICE hold typically occurs when a person has been stopped or detained – often involving a minor traffic violation. Under Secure Communities, in the process of obtaining personal information and fingerprinting, the law enforcement agency’s database is shared with Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

   If ICE agents notice an individual with a warrant, a re-entry charge or a previous conviction, they will request the police department do them a favor and “hold” the person for forty-eight hours. The local law enforcement officers are under no legal obligations, nor are the ‘ICE-holds” mandatory.  Studies have found, however, that the “ICE hold’ process is prone to mistakes, and individuals are often mistakenly identified, resulting in innocent persons being detained for deportation.   

 In arguing that city of Philadelphia does not have to “comply” with the ICE-hold requests,  Blanca Pacheco of the New Sanctuary Movement said, “they are not criminal warrants, they are not reviewed by a judge, and they are not mandatory.”

    Noting that the city is not “reimbursed” monetarily for the ICE-holds, Ms. Pacheco said, the city is “wasting” taxpayers’ money “by holding people who would otherwise be released.”

  “The connection between immigration and Philadelphia law enforcement is causing fear and mistrust in an agency that is supposed to protect us, that we should trust,” she said. Moreover, the immigrant community largely see the police as a “wing of deportation” and thereby responsible for “family separations.”

  In addition, the use of ICE-holds on juveniles, she said, was directly facilitating “the school to deportation pipeline.”

  Cristobal Valencia of the South Philadelphia-based Juntos group, followed Ms. Pacheco and echoed many of her assessments, saying that the use of ICE holds was “undermining the trust” in the police department.

     Both Mr. Valencia and Miguel Andrade of Juntos expressed disappointment that the current administration, “in birthplace of democracy,” was moving forward on a policy without more “input from the community.”

  While seeing some encouraging “movement” from the Mayor with the creation of the Mayors Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, opened her comments by asking,  “What is a good policy?”   

 With the principal objective that of fashioning a policy that is “forward thinking,” Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez raised several fundamental question surrounding local law enforcement’s  relationship with ICE: What do these detainers cost to the city? What is the burden to the taxpayers, and the burden to the court system, and on our police department?”

  “Let’s have that other discussion,” continued the 7th district Councilwoman, “and let’s talk about a policy the makes sense.”

   Noting that a number of “sister cities” have much “more progressive” policies regarding undocumented immigrants and the role of the local police, Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez urged opening the subject to “discussion” and examination in Council Chambers.

 “Let’s  have that public debate in this Council Chamber. Let’s have that public discussion we need to have, (so) that we can ensure that we have a forward (looking) policy.”

   By being proactive on immigration, Ms. Quinones Sanchez suggested Philadelphia would be sending “a message to this deadlocked Congress about what is fair and just.”

 “Deportation is as Unamerican as you can get,” she added. “Let’s do this and let’s do this in the right way; and in a way that we educate and we formulate policy.”

  After noting that the African and Caribbean communities would be represented at March 3rd hearings, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell expressed the need to “protect all of our immigrants, no matter where they come from.”

   Another City Councilman, Jim Kenney, agreed with focusing the city’s concerns on the “family.” He went on to say that the city’s policies should be guided by the notion that we want immigrants to “be part of our family.”

   Dismissing the need to follow the recommendations of federal officials who generally, “don’t want to help us with education,” but want to help us with deportation, the Councilman spoke of looking to other cities.

  Citing the example of cities like New York and Chicago, Councilman Kenney said, “they get it right, and understand the value of immigration.”

  “We’ll figure it out,” continued Councilman Kenney, who urged the city to set a new welcoming “tone” that embraced immigrants:  “We need people to come here, to live and work  in our neighborhoods, and to come out of the shadows.”


 Of the 368, 644 deportations in 2013, the Department of Homeland Security reports that 59 percent or 216,810 of them had prior criminal convictions.  Of the other 151,834 deportations, D.H.S. reports that 84 percent or 128,398 were apprehended attempting to cross the border.