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Concern rises following ICE arrest of mother after she dropped off child at South Philly school

Advocates for undocumented and other immigrants questioned whether the action complied with ICE’s policy for “sensitive locations," including schools.

The Eliza B. Kirkbride School. ICE agents detained an undocumented Honduran mother after she dropped her child off there last week.
The Eliza B. Kirkbride School. ICE agents detained an undocumented Honduran mother after she dropped her child off there last week.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

ICE on Tuesday acknowledged that its agents detained a woman last week after she dropped her child off at a South Philadelphia school, an act that advocates for immigrants said sparked new concern in the community and raised questions about the agency’s stated practice of not making arrests at sensitive locations.

“It’s getting right up to that line,” said Peter Pedemonti, co-director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. He said the arrest appeared "intended to intimidate and send fear throughout our community” by “touching a place like schools, dropping your kid off.”

The arrest, first reported by KYW Newsradio, took place on Feb. 11 after a drop-off at Eliza B. Kirkbride Elementary, according to Philadelphia School District spokesperson Monica Lewis. She said it happened outside the school at Seventh and Dickinson Streets, but did not know whether it was on school property.

“To our knowledge, there was no interaction from the school staff" with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Lewis said. “We don’t know how ICE determined this parent needed to be apprehended by them.”

» READ MORE: Report: ICE arrests of undocumented immigrants at Pennsylvania courthouses scare away victims, witnesses

In a statement Tuesday, an ICE spokesperson said officers had arrested Carmen Lara-Marquez, 30, a Honduran national, “for immigration violations near her residence in Philadelphia. She was briefly detained before being released for humanitarian reasons."

The spokesperson, Adrian Smith, said an immigration judge in 2012 had "issued Lara-Marquez a final order of removal in absentia. Humanitarian factors and potential mitigating circumstances are considered for every individual encountered by ICE. A detention decision is made on a case-by-case basis based upon the totality of the circumstances.”

Lara-Marquez could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

ICE says it does not conduct enforcement actions at locations such as schools and churches unless “exigent circumstances exist," other law enforcement actions have led ICE officers to the location, or supervisors have granted prior approval.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Tuesday night that the district was looking into the detention, noting ICE’s “sensitive locations” policy. “We are unwavering in our commitment to have all schools remain safe havens where families can support their child’s education without risk or concern for their personal freedom,” Hite said.

Advocates for undocumented and other immigrants questioned whether last week’s action complied with ICE’s policy on sensitive locations. Pedemonti, of New Sanctuary Movement, said the arrest has been a topic of conversation among community members and teachers. People “are very concerned about it,” he said.

City Councilmember Helen Gym said “there was absolutely no reason" to treat a mother outside a school like that. “We have made very clear our schools are safe zones.”

The district has previously instructed school staff on dealing with immigration issues, including through a “tool kit” provided to employees in 2017.

» READ MORE: In charged climate, Philly teachers learn how to keep immigrant students safe

The document says that school staff should not report an undocumented student to ICE; that the district does not participate in immigration actions; and that a school’s principal must immediately contact the district if ICE agents come to a school. It says ICE personnel must provide a warrant to enter a school.

The district is prohibited from asking whether students about immigration status. Of its approximately 130,000 students, more than 14,000 are learning the English language, and students speak 126 languages, Lewis said.