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September 08, 2016

ICE officials criticize Philly policy after arresting released sex offender

Federal law enforcement officials offered strong criticism of Philadelphia's "sanctuary city" status after arresting an undocumented immigrant who was released from the city's custody.

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Thursday the arrest of Milton Berrera-Lopez, 29, of Guatemala, a week after he was released from a Philly jail on Aug. 30.

Berrera-Lopez was convicted of two counts of indecent exposure involving minors and providing false identification to a law enforcement officer. He was sentenced to 23 months of time served, two years of probation and barred from having contact with minors.

While Berrera-Lopez was being held to await his trial, ICE officials filed a detainer with the Montgomery County Correctional Facility to face additional charges.

When Berrera-Lopez was transferred to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility after sentencing, Philly authorities ignored the detainer and released him.

Later that day, Berrera-Lopez was taken into ICE custody after reporting to a probation center in King of Prussia. He will remain in custody to await removal proceedings, the ICE said.

Thomas Decker, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Philadelphia field office director, urged the city to alter its policy.

“When convicted criminal aliens who pose a threat to children are released into communities instead of being safely transferred to ICE custody in a secure environment, our communities are exposed to an unnecessary risk,” Decker said in a statement. “This level of risk can be mitigated in many instances. ICE shares the city’s ultimate objective to protect public safety and national security while simultaneously preserving the critical community-police bond. As such, the agency welcomes significant modifications to the current policy which is creating a potentially unsafe environment for the city’s residents."

According to Metro Philly, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney's Office rebuffed that view.

"It’s completely inaccurate to say our policies put Philadelphia in danger. It’s just the opposite," Lauren Hitt told the newspaper. "By not making our police and prisons do ICE’s job for them, we have stronger relationships with our immigrant communities. In cities without sanctuary city policies, immigrants are often too scared to report crimes or act as witnesses in criminal cases."

One of Kenney's first acts as mayor was to sign an executive order on notifying federal authorities regarding illegal immigrants in police custody.

ICE said that 235,413 individuals were removed after illegally attempting to enter the country in 2015.