ICE calls out Philly, Chester County as uncooperative

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ICE operations targeting illegal immigrants yielded 248 arrests in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware this month.

At first glance, a report released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday suggested that three undocumented immigrants in the Philadelphia region with serious criminal histories had been released after local officials declined to detain them at the request of immigration agents.

But officials in Philadelphia and Chester County said Tuesday that in two of those three cases, their records did not match the data in the federal report.

The unprecedented report, the product of an executive order issued by President Trump in the first days of his presidency, is a document that aims to show the scope of what the president and his advisers describe as a threat that endangers Americans: undocumented immigrants charged with or convicted of crimes who then are released by local law enforcement agencies which don’t cooperate with ICE agents.

The document is the first in a promised weekly series and says it is cataloging reports gathered between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 on 206 individuals who have been released by local jurisdictions. It doesn’t name those individuals but does give some identifying information: the person’s citizenship; the county and state where they were arrested; the institution where they were subsequently held; and what the report calls “notable criminal activity." That is defined as the most serious charge or conviction in their criminal history. Regarding detainers, there are two entries: the date the detainer was issued, and the date it was declined.

ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez acknowledged Tuesday that the “detainer-decline date” listed in the report does not necessarily mean that that person walked free on that date.

“Generally, we only learn that a detainer is declined when we re-encounter the person,” Rodriguez said. If a charge doesn’t stick, or if the person takes a plea bargain and is released by a judge, “we don’t get notification of that,” she said.

Officials in Philadelphia and Chester County said their records did not match the report in two of the cases cited in Monday's report.

In one instance, federal officials said Philadelphia declined an April 17, 2015, detainer request for a Jamaican national charged with a crime. But Philadelphia officials said they have no record of a Jamaican national charged with any crime on or around April 17, 2015.

In Chester County, ICE said it had requested a detainer for a person from El Salvador on Feb. 29, 2016, with the detainer declined Feb. 3, 2017. But county officials said they have no record of a Salvadoran either in custody or released on those dates.

ICE said a third person, a Dominican national, was arrested Feb. 26, 2016, and that city officials had declined its detainer request Feb. 3, 2017. City officials were trying to identify that case on Tuesday night.

The report does not specify what the three people were arrested for. It does list serious charges allegedly incurred at some point in their past, but does not specify when or where they were committed.

Of the 206 detainers declined, more than 100 were denied by Travis County Jail in Texas. Fifty-six of the people ICE wanted were linked to some form of assault; 40 had DUI charges or convictions. The remainder were spread over a range of minor and serious charges. In all, citizens of 16 countries are represented, with the largest number from Mexico.

The report identifies 118 jurisdictions -- including 15 in Pennsylvania, and 4 in New Jersey -- which “limit cooperation” with ICE.

Labeled “noncooperative,” these cities, parishes, and counties have a variety of policies governing the relationship between ICE and the municipality. Philadelphia and all four of its surrounding suburban counties made the list.

So did Franklin County in south-central Pennsylvania, which “recognizes ICE detainers as non-binding requests, not mandatory orders,” and will not hold inmates beyond their release dates, the report states.

Erie County allows ICE agents to inspect its jail “at any time,” allows them to ride along on local law enforcement patrols, but requires a warrant before releasing a prisoner to ICE. It made the noncooperative list.

Philadelphia honors ICE detainers for people with prior felony convictions involving violence, if the request is accompanied by a judicial arrest warrant.

Some of those counties said on Tuesday that the ICE report had mischaracterized their relationship with federal authorities. Delaware County made the list, even though it contracts with ICE to hold detainees arrested at the airport, County Councilman John McBlain said. Officials there “fully cooperate” with immigration authorities, he said.

“We will notify ICE when someone comes into the system. We will notify ICE to come pick that person up if they want them” when they are ready to be released, he said. He said after Delaware County was included on a conservative group’s list of sanctuary jurisdictions last year, he contacted the ICE field office in Philadelphia, which sent a letter saying “they’re perfectly happy with the cooperation of Delaware County,” he said.

Per a 2014 federal court decision over a wrongful-detention case in Lehigh County, many counties in Pennsylvania won’t hold inmates past their release date on behalf of ICE. But they will notify immigration authorities when those inmates are about to be released.

“Our policy is that we cooperate with ICE, we provide them with daily information, we inform them when someone is being released,” said Mary Beth Shank, Franklin County’s solicitor. “But we only honor a court order.”

Still, Franklin County made it onto a third list, of 10 “non-cooperative jurisdictions” that had the “highest volume of detainers” issued during the week highlighted in the report. No. 1 was Clark County in Nevada, with 51 detainers issued. Franklin County was No. 10, with five.

Shank, however, said Franklin County had only received three detainer requests that week. Of those requests, she said, none of the inmates were released into the community. One is still in jail; the other two are in ICE custody.

“I felt, on behalf of [the county], that it was a mischaracterization and it created a headline that would confuse [our] citizens," Shank said of the county’s inclusion in the report. She said she hoped to speak to ICE about that.

In Philadelphia, city officials said their immigration policy is simply following a Constitutional ban on incarcerating someone without a warrant.

“If ICE wants us to hold them for additional time, ICE should get a warrant,” said Ajeenah Amir, a city spokeswoman. “It’s important to note that this is how we treat everyone -- undocumented immigrants aren’t receiving special treatment.”

Staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.