Federal authorities say they arrested 49 immigrants in the Philadelphia region during a seven-day operation this month that targeted those who had committed crimes, faced pending criminal charges, or had previously been deported.
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said 14 of those arrests were of people who had been released from custody in Philadelphia despite having an ICE detainer lodged against them.
In filing a detainer, ICE asks local authorities to hold someone until its agents can arrive to take custody. Philadelphia city government says it has no legal authority to hold anyone beyond the time of scheduled release.
The city and federal governments are battling in court over whether Philadelphia, a so-called sanctuary city, must comply with ICE detainers.
“Some of these dangerous individuals had been released to the streets instead of being turned over to ICE,” Philadelphia Field Office acting director Gregory Brawley said in a statement, and that “compromises the safety of the homeland that ICE officers strive to protect every day.”
Mayor Kenney has strongly supported immigrants and condemned the Trump administration for its enforcement policies. He has said that the Police Department will not become an arm of federal immigration operations.
ICE’s own statement “again makes it clear that our policies do not impede that agency from doing its job of enforcing civil immigration laws and detaining its targets,” said mayoral spokesman Mike Dunn. “Unfortunately, ICE’s tactics of sweeping raids have the effect of sowing distrust and anxiety among members of our immigrant communities and make them less likely to trust any law enforcement, including our police.”
Juntos, the Latino advocacy organization, criticized President Trump and immigration authorities. “Under the current administration,” said spokesman Miguel Andrade, “ICE has been given permission to go out and hunt down immigrants in these communities.”
In September, ICE carried out what it called “Operation Safe City” in 10 sanctuary-city jurisdictions around the country, taking away nearly 500 undocumented immigrants during a four-day sweep. The largest number of arrests took place in Philadelphia, with 107 people caught in an enforcement action that targeted cities and states that seek to protect undocumented residents, or at least treat them like everyone else who enters the justice system.
ICE officials said Tuesday that from May 14 through Sunday they conducted a “targeted enforcement operation,” rejecting the words sweep or raid.
Their statement did not name those who were arrested, as is ICE practice. Officials said 14 were previously released from Philadelphia custody; 17 had criminal convictions; 14 have pending criminal charges; six had illegally re-entered the country after being removed; and 14 had outstanding final orders of removal.
ICE officials said those included:
— A 52-year-old Mexican man unlawfully present in Philadelphia who had been arrested by Philadelphia police and charged with simple assault and terroristic threats. He will remain in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings.
— A 40-year-old, previously deported Jamaican man in Philadelphia. He was arrested by Philadelphia police after a bench warrant was issued on charges of presenting false ID to law enforcement. He has a conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He is to remain in ICE custody pending removal.
— A 40-year-old, previously deported Dominican man in Philadelphia. He had a conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute heroin. He will remain in ICE custody pending removal.
— A 22-year-old Colombian man in Philadelphia who had a conviction for aggravated assault. He will remain in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings.
— A 35-year-old unlawfully present Mexican man in Philadelphia who has pending criminal charges in the city for aggravated and simple assault. He will remain in ICE custody pending proceedings.
Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, said ICE mischaracterized some of those it arrested.
“Do not buy their lies,” she tweeted. “They criminalize our community and refer to us as animals.”
She said one of those arrested was a church band leader who was stopped on his way to a spiritual retreat with his wife, a U.S. citizen. Also arrested was a man who was inside a Philadelphia court for a pending case, who has no criminal background but does have a wife who is seven months pregnant, she said.
ICE officials said in a statement that the agency does not conduct “sweeps, checkpoints or raids that target aliens indiscriminately,” and that this operation targeted “public safety threats.”
“Reports to the contrary create panic and put communities and law-enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,” the statement said. “Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”