By Merry Reed and Austin Nolen
The day after Philadelphia police arrested 29 protesters who blocked access to garage doors at the Philadelphia Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the front entrance to the building and a side street remain occupied.
Conflicts between protesters and police arose after demonstrators were asked to remove themselves from the entrance to a loading dock at ICE Offices. The protesters linked arms, blocking access to the doors.
Police response to the demonstration has been pronounced, with a heavy head-count of officers present to monitor the situation.
The occupation, which began on the afternoon of July 2nd, was organized by a coalition of Philadelphia-area socialist groups as well as the religious activist group POWER, following a similar occupation in Portland, Oregon.
The occupying groups have demanded the abolition of ICE, the closure of the Berks County Residential Center, and an end to data sharing between city officials and immigration authorities.
While politicians who have called for the abolition of ICE, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), want to replace it with another immigration enforcement agency, some of the occupiers have a different vision for the future of immigration enforcement in America.
Mara Henao, the co-chair of Philly Socialists, one of the members of the coalition, published a short article the day before the occupation began, arguing that “the solution is to eliminate the concept of ‘illegal immigrants’ altogether.”
Meanwhile, the Berks County Residential Center detains immigrant families under a contract with the federal government. Activists have been trying to shut down the Center, but efforts by state government to revoke its license have become bogged down.
With the Trump administration reeling from the negative reaction to its family separation policy, it is now seeking to implement family detention like that seen in Berks on a wider scale.
City authorities also share data with immigration officials through the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System. PARS was originally designed to speed up the process of information sharing about arrests between Philly police, the District Attorney’s Office and the Philadelphia courts, but in 2008, City officials allowed ICE to access the system in return for yearly payments.
That agreement has been renewed every year, but in 2010, City officials added provisions to withhold victim and witness information from ICE and that prohibited ICE from using any victim or witness information it had already obtained from PARS.
The occupiers, however, want to convince the City to completely bar ICE access to PARS, which can still be used by immigration enforcement agents to locate immigrants accused of crimes in Philadelphia.
At the time of publication, protesters remain firmly dedicated to continuing the occupation of ICE Offices in Philadelphia.
This is a developing story.