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October 01, 2020

Philly and other sanctuary cities could be targets of ICE raids in coming weeks

Mayor Kenney says the city will continue 'welcoming, celebrating and fighting for the the rights of our undocumented immigrants.'

Government Immigration
ICE immigration raids philly Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

According to a report in the Washington Post, ICE agents are expected to begin conducting immigration enforcement operations in sanctuary cities. Philadelphia could be among them.

Philadelphia is expected to be among the locations where the Trump administration conducts Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation raids during the coming month, in what's being considered a political messaging campaign rather than a major ICE operation.

Three U.S. officials said U.S. cities and jurisdictions classified as sanctuary cities – like Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco – will be the next targets of immigration enforcement, the Washington Post reported earlier this week.

These raids could start in California within the next week and then expand to sanctuary cities across the country. The plan was released by three U.S. officials who spoke to the Post under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive government law enforcement plans.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who has been a vocal opponent of the Trump administration's stance on immigration enforcement, said in an emailed statement that Philadelphia will "continue welcoming, celebrating, and fighting for the rights of our undocumented immigrants and their families."

"Unfortunately, this is not the first time that President Trump has attempted to create fear in our undocumented immigrant communities," Kenney said. "The frequent threats of deportation raids by Trump and his Administration do nothing but make our communities less safe by driving people into the shadows and away from people working to keep them safe. President Trump poses a greater threat to this country than our Immigrant communities."

The term sanctuary city does not have a legal definition. Rather it refers to municipalities that have established policies of not sharing immigration status data with federal authorities for people who come into contact with local law enforcement.

In Philadelphia, that means city employees, including police, are not permitted to ask about the documentation statuses of people they encounter, according to the Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs. Philadelphia also does not provide federal immigration agents information for deportations.

Sanctuary cities across the country that thwart ICE coordination often refuse to hold immigrants in jail longer than required, in order to allow ICE to take people into custody. They also do not help ICE by checking the legal status of suspects who are arrested or detained for minor offenses.

The city's immigration office website notes this does not mean local law enforcement overlooks crime, which will be investigated regardless of immigration status.

The latest statistics show 70% of arrests made by ICE occur after it has been notified of an immigrant's pending release from jail or state prison. Since 2019, ICE has lodged more than 160,000 detainers with local law enforcement.

ICE states that these sanctuary cities have more substantial backlogs of "at-large criminal and fugitive aliens ICE seeks to apprehend," according to the agency.

The plan for the upcoming ICE raids was described by two officials as more of a political messaging campaign than a major ICE operation, the Post reported. Immigration violators with criminal records are evaluated and arrested on a somewhat regular basis.

Targeting sanctuary cities for a campaign publicizing criminal arrests had been discussed "repeatedly" during the Trump administration, the Post reported, but after the COVID-19 outbreak, ICE deferred some enforcement plans due to health risks. 

Philadelphia has been the site of similar ICE raids in the past few years. ProPublica reported in 2018 that ICE's Philadelphia office was making more "at-large" arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions than anywhere else in America.

ICE official Henry Lucero said in a statement to the Post that the agency "cannot stand by idly while knowing the public is being misled about the role ICE plays in keeping the public safe."

"The fact is local policies prohibiting agencies from working with ICE put you in danger and waste police resources," Lucero said. "The public should hold its leaders accountable and demand to know what type of criminals are being released from local custody instead of turned over to ICE."

Philadelphia is one of many major cities that does not let ICE agents into its jails. Kenney classified Philadelphia as a sanctuary city and refuses to provide federal immigration officials information for deportations, according to ProPublica.

"Some jurisdictions shut the door in our face: San Francisco was one, Philly was another," Sarah Saldaña, IDE's national director for Obama's two final years, said to ProPublica.