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Immigrant-rights group seeks end to police, ICE collaboration

New Sanctuary Movement says minor offenses are leading to deportations and tearing families apart; city officials say only the worst offenders are targeted.

JOHN AND Zulymar Rios, 6 and 9, were among undocumented immigrants' children who rallied yesterday at City Hall to urge city officials to abandon a collaboration with the feds that leads to deportation.

In fact, John and Zulymar were the only children there whose parents are not facing deportation. Their father was granted a special visa after he was pistol-whipped in 2010 by Philadelphia police who suspected him of harboring a suspect in his North Philly home.

"The police thought my dad was a criminal, and they took him and hit him with their guns in the face and arrested him while my mom and us went inside to the kitchen," recalled Zulymar. "They said if we didn't shut up they would arrest my mom."

As an undocumented Mexican immigrant, their father was held for several days to face immigrant-status scrutiny alongside his criminal charges because of a Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, which Philly cops joined four years ago tomorrow, and which yesterday's demonstrators would like them to abandon. The system shares pretrial local-arrest data with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The father was acquitted of the criminal charges and granted a visa reserved for victims of crime, in his case police brutality.

Others at the rally mentioned family members receiving minor traffic citations that got them on ICE's radar. Immigrant legal-advocacy group New Sanctuary Movement, the demonstration's organizer, claims 90 percent of its clients face deportation because of misdemeanor charges.

The city District Attorney's Office, however, sees things differently.

"If you are fingerprinted and brought in and you have a mug shot taken, you are being charged with a serious crime," said Tasha Jamerson, spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams. She noted that "summary" offenses that end in a ticket are unlikely to get the feds' attention.

A news release from Williams' office yesterday showcased violent undocumented-immigrant criminals recently snared by ICE thanks to the collaboration. One robbed and killed a man in a pizza shop; another pointed a gun at police in a separate incident.

Blanca Pacheco, a New Sanctuary organizer, countered with the case of the June arrest of a 26-year-old undocumented immigrant for simple assault. His charges were dropped, but the first-time offender and 10-year resident still faces deportation.

"It's not always so simple," Pacheco said. "Sometimes you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The real public danger, rally organizers said, lies in alienating undocumented-immigrant communities from the police in their neighborhoods. In Pennsylvania, Pew Research numbers estimate that's more than 160,000 people.

"The police-ICE collaboration enables the police to act as a wing of immigration," said Nicole Kligerman of New Sanctuary. "That leads to immigrants being terrified to interact with the police, which is a threat to public security in general, not just for immigrants."