By Claudia Lauer Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia will stop giving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to a real-time arrest database, saying the agency is misusing the information to conduct sweeps in which otherwise law-abiding immigrants are also being caught up. Federal officials said the decision puts U.S. citizens in danger.
“We’re not going to provide them with information so they can go out and round people up,” Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney said Friday as he announced his decision to let a decade-old contract with ICE expire at the end of next month.
Kenney said immigration officers are wrongly using the database to go to homes and workplaces of people who list foreign countries of origin and arresting other people who are in the country illegally but are otherwise not accused of any crimes.
U.S. Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman called the decision irresponsible and said the city will end up “harboring criminal aliens.”
“Sanctuary-city policies make American communities like Philadelphia less safe by putting the rights of criminal aliens over the safety and security of American citizens,” Waldman said. “Despite the misguided action taken by Philadelphia today, DHS will continue to work to remove illegal aliens and uphold public safety.”
Two of three stakeholders in the contract — the city, the district attorney and the city courts — had to vote to end it. District Attorney Larry Krasner had said this month he would oppose the contract’s renewal, saying it promotes oppressive practices.
Kenney said the federal agency’s actions have created fear and distrust in the city’s immigrant community and made it more difficult for police to solve crimes.
ICE has previously said it would focus on immediate deportation for people in the country illegally who had felony convictions or who were suspected of felonies.
Juntos, an immigrant advocacy group, said the city’s decision will reduce the ability of ICE “to disappear our loved ones and tear apart families.”
As a sanctuary city, Philadelphia had already limited cooperation with immigration enforcement. It won’t release inmates to ICE without a judicial warrant.
The Trump administration wants to cut funding to the city as a result but has so far been blocked by a judge.
“How anyone can define this as making America great again is beyond me,” the mayor said.
Anyone who interacts with law enforcement is entered into the database, including those who are arrested, victims and witnesses, with limits on what ICE officers can view.
The mayor said the city’s conversations in recent weeks with ICE only confirmed what he had feared.
Philadelphia entered into the contract in 2008, city solicitor Marcel Pratt said, and revised it in 2009 to shield witness and victim information from the agency, as well as to eliminate immigration status.
In a termination letter sent to ICE on Thursday, Pratt said the contract “has created the false perception that the city is willing to be an extension of ICE.”
“It is not in the best interests of the city and its residents for the city to acquiesce to that perception,” Pratt wrote.
The city said it has not yet received a response to its letter.