Philadelphia Is Ending A Major Contract With ICE Philadelphia is terminating a long-running contract with federal immigration officials that critics say has been used by agents to target unauthorized immigrants for arrest.
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Philadelphia Is Ending A Major Contract With ICE

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Philadelphia Is Ending A Major Contract With ICE

Philadelphia Is Ending A Major Contract With ICE

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Philadelphia is ending a major contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Federal immigration agents have long had access to an arrest database maintained by local authorities there. But activists and now top city officials say ICE uses the information to target migrants. As Bobby Allyn reports, this is the latest win for immigration rights activists who are making a nationwide push to sever ties with ICE.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey. Ho, ho. ICE and PARS have got to go.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: For weeks outside of Philadelphia City Hall, dozens of Occupy ICE demonstrators have been camping out. They erected large tents and hung up big signs that read, end PARS. That's the acronym for a database local police use to keep track of everyone they're interacting with. Occupiers have been meeting privately with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. They said immigration enforcement officials use the database as a way to fish for unauthorized immigrants, many never having been convicted of a crime. Kenney says, no more.

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JIM KENNEY: If I could abolish ICE, I would. But we can abolish this contract, and we are.

ALLYN: The announcement means the city will not renew the decade-long deal with ICE once it expires this fall. Through the system, ICE can access a suspect's full name, birth country and detention status but not whether someone is in the country legally or not. Kenney accuses federal agents of doing guesswork to racially profile city residents.

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KENNEY: Because a person's name is Lopez or some other Hispanic name, you're going to go to their house and then take people out of their home? I mean, it just makes no sense, and I never want to be part of this.

ALLYN: Federal immigration enforcement officials are not pleased. An ICE spokesman noted in a statement that Philadelphia's sanctuary city status already makes enforcing the country's immigration laws challenging. The city doesn't hold onto those suspected of being in the country illegally for ICE unless there's a judicial warrant. The ICE spokesman said ending the database access, quote, adds insult to injury by needlessly compromising public safety.

PETER SPIRO: The immigrant advocate groups are clearly winning significant battles at the local level, and this is counted now among them.

ALLYN: Peter Spiro teaches immigration law at Temple University.

SPIRO: Immigrant advocates have nowhere to go in Washington these days, either with the administration or in Congress. They're trying to exercise these other pressure points.

ALLYN: And it's not just protesters banging on outside of city halls. Activists on college campuses from Baltimore to California have launched campaigns for universities to end contracts with ICE. It's growing among private companies, too. Microsoft employees recently gave the company's chief executive a petition asking that a software contract with ICE be terminated. Back at the encampment, activist Mara Henao, who was born in Colombia, says since President Trump's zero-tolerance policy on immigration started escalating, life for many of her family and friends has become distressing. She says blocking ICE's access to the database can help them worry less.

MARA HENAO: It's important because, like, all we want to do is be able to have a normal life.

ALLYN: Henao has legal status, but she says that hasn't stopped her family from discussing how they'd go into hiding if she was targeted.

HENAO: We talk about this. It's, like, what if someday they come for you, Mara? What are we going to do? Do we send the kids to my mom? If you're - like, it's, like, all these things, you know, that, why am I have to worry about this?

ALLYN: Department of Homeland Security officials told NPR that immigration officials will, quote, continue to work to remove illegal aliens and uphold public safety in Philadelphia. Not renewing the database contract - DHS called that irresponsible.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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