Advocates demand ICE stop courthouse arrests

ICE arrests
Advocates demonstrate Monday, Dec. 4, outside the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City.
Jack Tomczuk

Immigrant advocates, the District Attorney’s Office and the public defender’s association are calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt arrests in and around Philadelphia’s courthouses, amid what they characterized as an alarming uptick in enforcement.

ICE has detained at least two dozen undocumented people this year outside courts in the city, according to Juntos, a Latinx-led group based in South Philadelphia.

Activists said agents appear to have more information than is available from public records, and they believe someone connected with the legal system is tipping them off.

“People seem to believe that under Biden, we are safer,” Juntos Executive Director Erika Guadalupe Nunez said during a rally and news conference Monday outside the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City. “I’m here to tell you that that’s not true.”

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration said it is investigating whether the recent arrests violate city policies. Under Philadelphia’s ‘sanctuary city’ status, police are not supposed to aid ICE in deporting residents, and the city has received the “Welcoming City” designation for its support of immigrants.

Juntos Executive Director Erika Guadalupe Nunez speaks Monday, Dec. 4, at a rally outside the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City.Jack Tomczuk

A city investigation was one of the demands laid out this week by Juntos and the ICE Out of Courts Coalition.

They want ICE to immediately cease courthouse arrests of people with pending criminal cases, and the coalition is also asking for written commitments from the First Judicial District and the Sheriff’s Office that neither will cooperate with immigration authorities. A recently posted online petition with the requests has gained more than 500 signatures.

During Sheriff Rochelle Bilal’s tenure, deputies have never coordinated with ICE and have never been ordered by the court to do so, Teresa Lundy, a spokesperson for the office, told Metro.

Richard McSorley, Philadelphia’s district court administrator, said the FJD is “not aware of any arrests involving ICE personnel having occurred inside the Stout Criminal Justice Center.”

ICE, per an April 2021 policy memo, is not supposed to detain anyone in or near a courthouse unless there is a national security threat; imminent risk of death, violence or physical harm; or there is imminent risk of destruction of evidence related to a criminal case.

Agents also must only pursue someone who is a public safety risk if arresting them at another location is not considered a safe alternative and it is approved by their supervisor, according to the document. ICE can apprehend targets in nearby buildings or properties that do not service court functions.

A spokesperson for the agency said ICE’s Philadelphia field office adheres to the policy, along with directives about sensitive locations and Biden administration priorities.

“While the City of Philadelphia and ERO (ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations) Philadelphia may disagree on the application of immigration laws in our communities, ERO Philadelphia looks forward to conversations with the City on methods to better enforce our laws in a complimentary manner,” an ICE spokesperson told Metro in a emailed statement.

During Tuesday’s rally, Juntos junior organizer Ashley Telez recounted a case involving a 42-year-old undocumented man who was deported to Mexico even after his case was dropped.

Advocates demonstrate Monday, Dec. 4, outside the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City.Jack Tomczuk

Reading a statement from Miguel Bacho, of Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, Telez said the man was arrested after his adolescent son called police after being spanked. The case was dismissed following a hearing, but ICE apprehended him outside court, she said.

“His son is completely devastated by a situation that escalated beyond the expected,” added Telez, who said the man is a father of three and his wife is pregnant.

In another instance, Fernando Figueroa Padilla, 37, was deported before he could face trial and a potential prison sentence for sexually abusing a girl under the age of 6, according to District Attorney Larry Krasner.

“It’s not about good or bad immigrants,” Guadalupe Nunez said. “It’s about a system that criminalizes our people.”

Krasner said courthouse immigration arrests also discourage undocumented crime victims and witnesses from coming forward. He said his office met with local ICE officials to discuss the situation.

“The good news is there was communication,” Krasner said. “The bad news is the information we received does not match what we are seeing.”