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Philly Democratic Socialist Association member Jamie Rush sports an "End PARS" shirt at the Occupy ICE PHL encampment on the east side of City Hall. Greta Anderson / AL DÍA News
Philly Democratic Socialist Association member Jamie Rush sports an "End PARS" shirt at the Occupy ICE PHL encampment on the east side of City Hall. Greta Anderson / AL DÍA News

Mayor Kenney to meet with Occupy ICE delegation

After protesters stormed in and around his City Hall office, the mayor agreed to meet with three members of the Occupy ICE movement on Friday to discuss the…

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Mayor Jim Kenney will sit down with three organizers of the anti-ICE occupation in Philadelphia - Xelba Gutierrez, May Ye and Anlin Wang - on Friday at 3:30 p.m. as a result of their letter delivery and attempted sit-in outside of the mayor’s office on Wednesday afternoon.

Mayoral Communications Director Deana Gamble confirmed the meeting, explaining that the mayor has met with several stakeholders - including local ICE officials and leaders from Juntos - to hear their grievances surrounding ICE officials’ use, and alleged abuse, of the PARS agreement with the City of Philadelphia. The mayor is set to make a decision on the agreement before its expiration on Aug. 31.

“We are now focused on deciding whether renewal is in the best interest of the City and its residents,” Gamble said in an email. “We are also cognizant that the City’s Welcoming City litigation against the Department of Justice (DOJ) is not over.”

The mayor has expressed worry that ending the PARS agreement will disrupt pending litigation on Philadelphia’s “sanctuary city” status, and have ramifications on cities across the country fighting similar cases. The DOJ still has the ability to appeal the June decision of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Michael Baylson that ruled it was unconstitutional for the federal government to withhold funding to the city for its refusal to have the police department directly turn over immigrants to ICE, unless the agency has a warrant signed by a judge for a specific individual’s detainment.

The Occupy ICE protesters and supporters of the movement claim the mayor is all talk and no action, though he’s expressed his disagreement with “ICE’s aggressive tactics”. Occupy ICE has had an encampment set up on the east side of City Hall for nearly three weeks and has blocked traffic around the ICE field office at 8th and Cherry Streets where 29 people were arrested for failure to disperse on July 5. The protesters decided on Wednesday to take their demonstration straight to the mayor.

Immigration reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer Jeff Gammage documented the protest via Twitter, describing the crowd as “raucous.” He said they blocked those with business in the public building from passing, despite police requests. They led chants of “Abolish ICE” and “End PARS,” reportedly bumping chests with officers and refusing to leave City Hall until demands for a meeting, among other requests, were met.   

Two demonstrators were given permission to enter the mayor’s office and deliver a letter detailing their opposition to the PARS, or Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System agreement, the arrest database that the city shares with immigration officials. One of these demonstrators was Gutierrez, an immigrant born in Venezuela and raised in Chile who has done advocacy work for the Latino community.  

"Kenney’s position as an elected official is on the line," Gutierrez told AL DÍA. "We have leverage here because we are constituents and we are in touch with advocacy groups that have constituents so we can make his next run, if he has a next run, a very difficult time."

In addition to an end to PARS, the letter demanded a public statement from the mayor announcing its termination and transparency from the mayoral office about how it intends to end the contract, about ICE’s alleged violation of the contract and about the expansion of the city’s sanctuary city policies that protect immigrants in Philadelphia.

“You have met with and heard the stories of the communities most affected by ICE’s violence. You have now also met with ICE. You are informed,” the letter, shared with AL DÍA News, stated. “Make the only humane and responsible choice: end PARS.”

Occupy ICE organizers will be holding a mass meeting on Friday evening in the Philadelphia room of the William Way Center at S Juniper and Spruce Streets to discuss the current state of the movement following the talk with Mayor Kenney.

The reference to “violations of the PARS contract” mentioned by demonstrators is based on a different letter exchange between City Solicitor Marcel Pratt and ICE field office director Simona Flores, where accusations and denials of ICE misuse of the PARS database have been claimed. Pratt said it was “likely” ICE used PARS to go after undocumented witnesses or victims of crimes rather than just arrestees, as the contract entails. The PARS agreement was established in 2008, but an amendment made in 2010 detailed that immigration officials could only use arrestee information, including their country of origin, to detain its suspects.

According to the Inquirer, Flores said claims that ICE is violating the contract are “entirely baseless,” further arguing that ICE would not be in violation of the PARS contract if it arrested a law-abiding undocumented immigrant it happened to encounter while detaining a person-of-interest it identifies through PARS. ICE’s understanding of the contract seems to be that — while it cannot directly target persons-of-interest who have not been arrested, but named in the database, i.e. victims or witnesses — it can approach others during raids of said arrestees, like family members or those in the area it suspects to be undocumented.

This has been the biggest concern for opposers of the PARS agreement and advocates for protection of the immigrant community. They say that while ICE assures it only goes after alleged criminals or arrestees who are undocumented via PARS, it has been reported that during such raids, law-abiding, yet undocumented individuals have also been detained. Flores objected the suggestion, however, that ICE uses “racial profiling” through PARS’ country of origin information to target others besides arrestees in the database. City and ICE officials met on July 18 in what was described by Gamble as a “productive meeting” to further discuss the use of the PARS system.

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