Protesters demand Philadelphia stop sharing arrest info with ICE

People protest outside the Center City office of ICE after their encampment was raided and before their press conference began. They call for the closure of the family detention center in Berks County, the abolition of ICE, and an end to what they said was “collaboration” by the city with ICE.

The name sounds as if it belongs on a golf-course scorecard: PARS.

Actually, it’s an acronym for Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, a real-time, computer database of arrests, operated by the City of Philadelphia and, via contract, shared with federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement, known as ICE.

Today, that tracking system stands central to a protest evolving outside the ICE office in Center City, where pro-immigrant demonstrators demand the city government cancel the agreement when it expires at the end of August.

“PARS is part of the problem of creating a terrorizing existence for immigrants,” the Rev. Katie Aikins of Tabernacle United Church told about 125 demonstrators at Eighth and Cherry Streets.

Two hours earlier, around 1 p.m., dozens of Philadelphia police officers raided what had been a budding encampment, clearing the area and throwing away tents and supplies.

>> READ MORE: Inside the Philadelphia Occupy ICE camp that police raided Thursday

Police cited seven protesters for failure to disperse, bringing the two-day arrest total to 36.

“We call on Mayor Kenney to end the contract with ICE!” shouted Enav Emmanuel of Philly Socialists, generating loud cheers.

Kenney has been outspoken in support of immigrants, including filing and winning a federal “sanctuary city” lawsuit over the right to limit cooperation with ICE. Mayoral spokesperson Mike Dunn said Thursday that renewal of the PARS contract was under review.

District Attorney Larry Krasner opposes renewal of the contract, his spokesperson said.

Camera icon HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Pastor Nicolas O’Rourke speaks at a press conference outside the Philadelphia ICE office at Eighth and Cherry Streets in Center City.

The issue has simmered since the weather turned warm but now boils as demonstrators gather outside in the heat on Eighth Street. They are calling for ICE to be abolished, for the Berks family detention center to be shut down, and for city government to stop sharing information on PARS.

>> READ MORE: Why they risked everything to Occupy ICE | Will Bunch

The database provides a tracking system for the city courts, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the District Attorney’s Office.

Last month a federal judge ruled for Philadelphia in its highly contentious case against the Trump administration, saying the city’s refusal to help enforce immigration laws was based on policies that were reasonable, rational, and equitable. U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson said the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold about $1.5 million in federal law enforcement grant money violated the law.

The sharing of PARS data was examined during the trial.

>> READ MORE: Mayor Kenney and Philly police: Protesters were repeatedly warned

Philadelphia-based ICE official David O’Neill testified that while the agency has a PARS terminal in its office, and checks it daily, the value can be limited because it does not disclose whether someone in custody was born in the United States. Instead, he said, ICE must search for that information name-by-name on other databases and dockets, a large, time-consuming task.

City officials testified that the Police Department is not an arm of the federal government, not responsible for immigration enforcement — and uses the same PARS information provided to ICE.

On Thursday, city Communications Director Deana Gamble said that while no decision has been made on renewing the contract, the city “continues to monitor how ICE uses the information accessed through PARS” and to discuss the matter with people and groups that are focused on the issue.

>> READ MORE: Did Philly just bike-doze Mayor Kenney’s relationship with progressives?

“ICE access to PARS — should it continue — in no way lessens our disdain for ICE policies and our commitment to maintaining Philadelphia as a welcoming city,” she said.

She noted that PARS does not allow ICE access to information on victims or witnesses, nor does it contain information on an individual’s immigration status. Ending ICE access to PARS would not prevent the agency from gathering much of the same information from public records, she added.

Camera icon HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Nancy Nguyen of VietLead speaks to protesters at Eighth and Cherry Streets in Center City.

Deputy Managing Director Brian Abernathy said in an interview last month that PARS’ usefulness to ICE shouldn’t be overstated.

“I’m sure they use it at times, but most of the information that people think [ICE] gains from PARS, they actually get from the public docket,” he said.

>> READ MORE: What is Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Explaining an agency under fire

By federal law, he said, the city is required to share information through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, known as AFIS, and the National Crime Information Center.

“There are a host of databases that we utilize and will continue to utilize for law enforcement that ICE will always have access to,” he said. “So I’m not sure how much a player PARS is in that dynamic.”

That is disputed by groups including Juntos, the Latin advocacy organization.

“We are not a sanctuary city right now,” Miguel Andrade, a Juntos leader, told the demonstrators outside ICE on Thursday. “We need to expand what sanctuary means. We need to end the dangerous information-sharing between the city and ICE.”

Staff writers Anna Orso and David Gambacorta contributed to this article.