March 15, 2017

Philadelphia defends sanctuary city policy amid 248 ICE arrests across region

Arrests Immigrants
031517_ArrestwalkICE Source/U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement

U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement (ICE) officials arrested 248 foreign nationals in a two-week operation targeting Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

The city of Philadelphia will hold firm on its sanctuary status in the wake of 248 arrests of "criminal aliens" in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware over the last two weeks.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announced the arrests on Tuesday as similar operations continue in targeted locations across the country, backed by recent orders from the Trump administration to ramp up enforcement against undocumented immigrants.

Philadelphia, which does not provide information to ICE to assist with such operations, has repeatedly argued that offering sanctuary to its residents is a matter of upholding the Fourth Amendment and maintaining a level of community trust that enables local officials to better fight crime when information is available.

"Like ICE, we want to keep Philadelphians safe but we can't do that if we are asked to violate the constitution and if we are asked to destroy the trust our officers have built with communities," said Lauren Hitt, spokesperson for the Kenney administration, in a statement. "ICE continues to ask us to hold people without probable cause or without a warrant. Philadelphia and our justice partners pursue, aggressively prosecute and punish those that commit dangerous crimes and we'll continue to do that. But we expect ICE to uphold our Constitution and respect Philadelphia for doing the same."

In a news release, ICE said that among those arrested in the operation, 120 or just under half had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges. Another 50 were previously removed from the United States and re-entered illegally. In all, 197 people were arrested in Pennsylvania, 42 in West Virginia, eight in Delaware and one in New Jersey.

“In the Philadelphia area, ICE arrested several at large criminal aliens in which the agency had issued detainers but the City of Philadelphia failed to honor them and released the individuals from custody — a situation that puts the public at unnecessary risk," ICE said in a statement. "ICE will continue to conduct targeted enforcement operations, whether local jurisdictions intend to cooperate with ICE or not.”

The agency described recent operation as "routine," prompting some to question whether they are a continuation of existing policies or a change brought on by the Trump administration. Last month's directives from the White House urged ICE to broaden its scope to include individuals without criminal records, a departure from the guidelines followed under the Obama administration.

ICE has called reports of checkpoints and sweeps "false, dangerous and irresponsible" sources of panic in communities, though the agency's policy of not disclosing its targeted operations has also played a factor in feeding uncertainty and fear.

The majority of those arrested over the past two weeks are being held at the York and Pike County Prisons, where they face the prospect of deportation.

Last month, immigrants cities across the United States orchestrated a walkout to show solidarity with undocumented workers who comprise a large part of the workforce in various industries.