Some issues take a lot of information before you can make up your mind about them."End PARS," a rallying cry of the Occupy ICE movement, is one of those issues. Here, a primer on PARS and its history with Mayor Kenney — and my take on what should happen next.
The Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System is a tool intended to streamline communication within the criminal justice system after arrests. The live-updated system includes information on arrests, charges, preliminary arraignment hearings ("bail hearings"), and bail. Each step involves a different part of the criminal justice system — police, district attorney, courts — and PARS is a way to see all the information in one place.
Since 2008, the City of Philadelphia has allowed ICE to access PARS for a fee. In the 2008 agreement the quoted yearly fee is $5,565. Since then, the contract has been renewed yearly on Aug. 31.
On his first day in office, Mayor Kenney ended the collaboration between the city and ICE, making Philadelphia a sanctuary city. The data-sharing agreement that gives ICE access to PARS somehow fell between the cracks. Even though we are a sanctuary city, we give ICE access to arrest data.
Immigration rights advocates from such organizations as Juntos and New Sanctuary Movement have been calling on the city for years to end the ICE-PARS contract. It is also one of the demands of Philly's Occupy ICE protesters. They argue that collaboration with ICE erodes trust between the immigrant community and the city, and that PARS is used as a tool to "balloon deportation." "End PARS" is shorthand for "end the ICE-PARS data-sharing agreement." The system itself is not the issue, ICE's access to it is.
PARS is managed by the First Judicial District, the Police Department, and the Office of the District Attorney. Two of the three entities need to sign to renew the agreement.
District Attorney Larry Krasner opposes the renewal of the contract and would vote against it. It is unclear what will drive the decision of the First Judicial District, the body that oversees the court in Philadelphia. Mayor Kenney, who has final say on the police department's vote, has not decided yet and as such he is the one currently under pressure.
ICE checks PARS daily, but both ICE and the city argue that PARS is not very useful . The system does not notify ICE of arrests and does not include immigration status — although it does include country of origin. ICE has access to many other data sets. If the contract ends, we should not expect a significant reduction in the rate of deportation.
That is part of the issue. Philadelphia recently won a lawsuit against Sessions to uphold the city's sanctuary status without losing federal grant money. A spokesperson for the city and other sources in Kenney's administration are worried that if the PARS-ICE contract is not renewed, it could be used against the city if the case is appealed.
It is also worth noting that as a City Council member in 2011, Kenney co-introduced, with Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, a resolution condemning the city for sharing PARS data with ICE.
In the words of N.Y. congressional candidate and political rising star Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, "There is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018." Regardless how often PARS is used by ICE — and the impact it would have on the number of deportations — it is moral clarity for Philly to state it refuses to share this data.
As long as the city gives ICE access to information that can help in their crackdown on immigration, it is complicit in the actions of the Trump administration.
It is the job of the mayor's lawyers to advise caution when an appeal to a major case is looming. But that does not mean that the right thing to do is not to fight. The city and ICE are on the record basically arguing that PARS is useless. If that is true, Philadelphia should not have any problem explaining in court that ending the agreement did not have a significant impact on ICE's work.
Mayor Kenney should join Krasner and let the ICE-PARS contract expire. Allowing ICE to access PARS is inconsistent with the city's sanctuary policy and effort to be a welcoming city to all who reside in it.