Philadelphia police will no longer detain immigrants unless the federal government shows up with a warrant, Mayor Michael Nutter announced Wednesday morning. The mayor signed an executive order at a press conference that would limit cooperation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to hold arrested immigrants for possible deportation.
Nutter’s executive order would prevent Philadelphia police from turning over immigrants with no criminal convictions to ICE agents. Similar restrictions are already enforced in “two states, the District of Columbia, at least eight cities and 12 counties,” including New York City, New Orleans, and statewide in California. The policies would mostly still allow law enforcement officials to continue to hold criminal immigrants, who were previously convicted of a first or second degree felonies involving violence. But immigration advocates from the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) group are hailing Philadelphia’s action as a victory, because the city would additionally require ICE officials to secure judicial warrants to support their detainers.
NSM community organizer Nicole Kligerman said to ThinkProgress Wednesday that the provision is the “most progressive policy in the country” and would “in practice … end all deportation holds” since ICE doesn’t generally seek out judicial warrants to accompany detainer requests.
So-called “ICE hold” requests (also known as ICE detainers or immigration holds) are voluntary federal requests sent by ICE to local and state law enforcement officials to hold an immigrant in local facilities (usually a jail) to give ICE time (up to 48 hours, excluding weekends) “to decide whether to take the person into federal custody and begin immigration proceedings,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union — Pennsylvania.
Still, Nutter’s signature will not bring back Teresa Flores’ son, Cuauhtémoc, who was deported in 2010 as a result of an ICE hold. As Flores explained in Spanish on Wednesday, Cuauhtémoc was arrested on his way to get back money that he had lent to his coworker. “We think that the coworker called the police to claim that my son was threatening to hurt him,” Flores said. She insisted that the criminal and terrorist charge for the supposed threat was not serious enough for police to arrest her son.
She explained that an “unscrupulous lawyer” advised Cuauhtémoc to plead guilty in order to get out of jail more quickly, but the lawyer failed to mention that a guilty admission could make immigrants eligible for deportation. Flores recounted that her son was held in three prison facilities in Pennsylvania and California for six months before being deported back to Mexico.
“He didn’t come home that day and I’ve suffered so much as a mother from that,” Flores added. “Since he was deported four years ago, I can’t go see him, [I can see him] only through the computer screen. I ask God for inner peace and tranquility.”
According to NSM, Philadelphia is “one of the 30 counties in the country that has deported the highest number of people with non-criminal backgrounds.” A 2012 New York University study found that programs such as ICE hold requests or the similar, but mandatory federal program known as Secure Communities contribute to an erosion of public trust between the immigrant community and local law enforcement. The study found that 94.5 percent of immigrants transferred to immigration detention facilities outside New York and New Jersey, where the study subjects resided, were deported. Another 2013 University of Illinois at Chicago report found that the federal Secure Communities program made Latinos less likely to report crimes to the police because they feared officers would ask about their immigration status.