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Philadelphia Stands By ‘Sanctuary’ Policy After Releasing Illegal Alien With Excessive Arrest Record

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • Philadelphia authorities repeatedly released an illegal alien who had been arrested for a slate of different crimes, each time ignoring a detainer request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • A city spokesperson stood by the actions, saying ICE agents must provide a judicial warrant if they want an immigration detainer to be honored. Such claims have been criticized by immigration experts. 
  • ICE also ripped Philadelphia for taking the unprecedented action of intervening in this individual’s immigration court case, helping him win release from ICE custody. 

The government of Philadelphia is standing by its continued release of a criminal illegal alien — ignoring requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold the individual — arguing that it’s complying with federal law.

ICE released a scathing press statement on Friday, slamming Philadelphia for releasing from its custody an illegal alien on three separate occasions, ignoring an ICE detainer request each time. The 36-year-old Mexican national, whom the agency did not identify, had been arrested at least six times since 2018.

The individual was arrested for a laundry list of offenses: robbery, aggravated and simple assault, terroristic threats, receiving stolen property, disorderly conduct, failure to appear and other alleged crimes.

Despite these crimes, Philadelphia authorities kept releasing him and refused to honor requests by federal immigration authorities to hold him long enough for an ICE agent to arrive and take him into federal custody.

“Cooperating with ICE is in the best interest of the residents of the city of Philadelphia,” said Gregory Brawley, an ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations spokesman in Philadelphia. “Philadelphia officials misguided policy of releasing dangerous criminals, rather than safely transferring these individuals to ICE custody, negatively impacts public safety.”

A member of ICE and ERO Fugitive Operations teams is pictured during an operation in San Jose

A member of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Removal Operations (ERO) (San Francisco and Northern California) Fugitive Operations teams is pictured during an operation in San Jose, California, U.S. September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

However, a city spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that Philadelphia authorities are simply following federal law, and called on ICE to obtain a judicial warrant if they want an immigration detainer to be honored.

“While we can’t comment on the specific case cited, we can tell you that the City of Philadelphia has always cooperated with ICE when that agency goes before a judge and obtains a federal arrest warrant. This is not burdensome and ICE has, in fact, obtained such warrants on several occasions. In other words, we fully comply with federal law,” the spokesperson said.

“The reality is that the White House has tried to coerce cities like Philadelphia into going beyond federal law. That is where we draw the line in terms of cooperation. Research has shown that trust between officers and immigrant communities is essential to reducing crime and helping victims. Our policy — which has been upheld by a federal judge — ensures that trust, while still honoring judicial warrants,” the spokesperson continued.

The statement closely followed the reasoning made by numerous leaders of “sanctuary cities,” saying that federal immigration authorities must obtain a judicial warrant for an immigration detainer to be honored, and arguing that immigration enforcement can lead to mistrust between the immigrant community and law enforcement. (RELATED: ICE Catches Alleged Child Sexual Predator Repeatedly Released By Philadelphia Police)

However, ICE and immigration experts have long maintained that the Immigration and Nationality Act gives ICE explicit authority to issue arrest warrants.

“Local jurisdictions absolutely have the right to honor ICE detainer requests, and many do. This appears to be a move by the county leaders to avoid responsibility for the fact that they are releasing dangerous criminals back into the community,” Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of Immigration and Reform Law Institute, told the DCNF in August 2019.

ICE has also stated that the idea of judicial warrant for ICE arrests is a “myth” perpetuated by those who either oppose immigration enforcement or don’t understand it.

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers transfer an unauthorized immigrant with a criminal record during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in San Jose

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers transfer an unauthorized immigrant with a criminal record during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in San Jose, California, U.S. September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

Leaders of “sanctuary” jurisdictions largely say they have no role in enforcing federal immigration law. However, ICE noted that, in the case of this particular individual, Philadelphia authorities took the unprecedented step of engaging with an immigration judge on the illegal alien’s behalf.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s office wrote a letter to an immigration judge, and it was used to help the 36-year-old land a favorable custody decision and eventually win release from ICE custody.

“Despite the city’s stance on detainers, this is the first case that we have seen the district attorney’s office inject itself into immigration removal proceedings,” said Brawley. “City officials have indicated that they do not want to be a part of immigration enforcement, and yet in this case, they go on record and write a letter to an immigration judge, to help get an individual released?”

The DCNF made multiple inquiries to Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, about the decision to intervene in the illegal alien’s immigration court case, but did not receive a response.

After being released from ICE custody, the individual was arrested again by the Philadelphia Police Department and charged with recklessly endangering another person, aggravated assault, simple assault, and possession of an instrument of a crime. Yet again, local authorities did not honor an ICE detainer, and the individual was eventually released back into the community. (RELATED: Democratic Congressman Says He’s ‘Disturbed’ By ICE Arrest Of Illegal Alien With Multiple Theft Convictions)

ICE, however, was able to locate and apprehend the individual — again.

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