Holding signs, including one declaring "STOP THE DEPORTATIONS," immigrant-rights advocates marched in Center City Wednesday afternoon in one last big effort to persuade city officials not to renew an agreement giving immigration authorities access to police arrest records.
Javier Hernandez, a trainer with PhilaPOSH, chanted about the breakup of families as he led a march from LOVE Park to Chinatown, on to the Liberty Bell, then back west in front of Immigration Court on Market Street, and to the City Hall courtyard.
One mother, whose son was deported back to Mexico, said as she stood across from the Chinatown arch, "There's a lot of fear in our community," contending that people are afraid to talk with police.
The advocates want to end the city's agreement, begun in 2008, allowing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency access to the police arrest-records database, the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS), which includes data on an arrestee's birth country.
Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said Wednesday that he anticipates the city will renew the agreement when it expires Aug. 31. He said he expects to talk next week with Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield and District Attorney Seth Williams about concerns raised by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.
Gillison stressed that the city already made a change last year by shielding victim and witness information in the database from ICE.
Sharing data on people arrested keeps the city safer, he said.
Quinones-Sanchez is urging the city to change the agreement by delaying the time in which the agency could access a person's criminal record.
"All we're saying is for the city not to give ICE the data until there is a preliminary hearing when it is clear who the victim and the defendant is," she said. "So that they can ensure they're only giving the information of the person being charged."
Critics say the program, aimed at deporting the most serious criminals, has been a dragnet on immigrants, deporting people who have not been convicted of a crime, and spreading fear among immigrants, who won't speak up about crimes.