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What is PARS?
PARS stands for “Preliminary Arraignment System” and is a database used by police in Philadelphia for processing arrests. All misdemeanor and felony arrests that occur in Philadelphia are processed through this system.
The City of Philadelphia has given ICE access to the PARS database since 2010.
How does PARS harm immigrant communities?
Records in PARS do not include immigration status specifically, but they do include SSN and country of origin. This information is enough to allow ICE to racially profile by proxy searches. ICE has access to many of the city’s databases, but PARS is particularly dangerous because it is a real-time database. While it can take weeks for ICE to get information from other databases, PARS data is available immediately.
According to a 2018 investigation by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia’s ICE office is one of the most aggressive in the nation. Access to PARS aids ICE in conducting raids on homes, workplaces, and communities and rounding up people to detain and deport. These risks apply not only to anyone who is arrested, but to their loved ones and community members as well; ICE routinely conducts “collateral arrests” – sweeping up and arresting immigrants other than the one they set out to look for, simply because they can.
The City of Philadelphia’s contract with ICE is up on August 31. Mayor Kenney has until then to decide whether or not he will continue to share this database with ICE.
Why has Kenney let this happen?
In 2017, Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice attempted to withhold federal funding from “Sanctuary Cities” for not complying with US Code § 1373, which states that no one can prevent a state or government entity from sharing someone’s immigration status. This led to several court cases.
In June 2018 a judge ruled in favor of the City of Philadelphia, but now Mayor Kenney claims that ending the ICE/PARS contract would lead to more threats from the DOJ. The fact is that PARS does not directly record immigration status, and Philadelphia can still be in compliance with Code § 1373 without continuing that contract.
Kenney’s stubbornness is also political. The Occupy ICE PHL movement forced Kenney to make a statement on PARS within days. If he were to yield on PARS now, it would be a clear win for the movement – a win that would encourage the occupation and build the inertia of our movement and our broader demands. As a member of the Democratic establishment, Kenney wants to avoid opening these floodgates at all costs, and instead will seek to short circuit the movement in the most politically clean way.
If Kenney really was the “Resistance,” he could push back on the idea that not sharing PARS would mean not being in compliance with Code § 1373, or he could challenge the constitutionality of the code in the first place. He could stand up for human rights and, if that resulted in losing federal funding, he could set out to raise that money back by taxing the richest 1% in Philadelphia. But he & the Democratic establishment rely on the same corporate elites that could provide that funding – and he’s afraid to ask them to step into that resistance.
Step up, Kenney!
Immigrant rights organizations such as Juntos and New Sanctuary have been working tirelessly on these issues for years. Socialist Alternative and the Abolish ICE movement supports their demand that Mayor Kenney refuse to renew the ICE/PARS contract.
Mayor Kenney has stated that he agrees with the protesters and wants a sanctuary city – yet he allowed the Philly Police to raid our peaceful protest, round up activists, and throw away countless dollars worth of supplies. And now, he’s hand-wringing over PARS.
We deserve a Mayor and a City Council who will stand up for immigrant rights and not bow to threats from Trump and his violent administration.
What comes next?
The occupation of the Philly ICE office and subsequent encampment at City Hall, along with similar occupations of ICE offices around the country, have changed the conversation. Philly DA Larry Krasner recently voiced support for ending the ICE/PARS contract and more people are pushing back on this agreement than ever.
One classic ruling class tool we can expect in coming weeks is the textbook divide and rule: Kenney may seek to isolate the tactics of the Occupy ICE movement from immigrant communities (who thus far have been very supportive of the occupations). He may assure small rooms of people most at risk from ICE that he will take it from here, that the larger movement serves no more purpose and that they can go home. Kenney may even cancel the ICE/PARS contract, especially if the movement becomes severed and so weak that it is no longer convincing that Occupy ICE PHL was responsible for the win.
We will sometimes need to work with politicians like Kenney and DA Larry Krasner (who recently voiced support for ending ICE/PARS)…but we should be clear that the movement is not rallying behind them – they are being dragged along by the movement. It is crucial to build the broadest solidarity possible. There is incredible momentum in this movement and it it needs escalation. To win, we must tip the balance of forces: on one side, the galvanized Left, immigrant communities, and critically, the broader working class; on the other side, the political establishment and the corporations they represent – who depend on the stifling of political struggle in order to get away with the massive theft they commit daily on the 99%.
Escalation means we need to continue to reach out to working class people in unions, immigrant communities, and faith-based and progressive organizations.
These protests have brought a huge spotlight onto PARS and other increasingly repressive & violent immigration policies committed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. We need to force Kenney and City Council to make their positions clear, and we need to continue to harness our own energy into resisting and disrupting the status quo and making broader demands.
The fight doesn’t end with the PARS contract, it doesn’t end with Berks Detention Center and it doesn’t even end with ICE. From a June 2018 SA article:
We call for an end to neoliberal policies that have plundered Mexico and Central America, forcing families to flee their homes. We call for mass movements that force the corporate politicians to act in our interests or risk being replaced.
We call for an independent working-class challenge to both the Republican and Democratic Parties which are dominated by the interests of big corporations and banks.
A real sanctuary city would be one where all people could access affordable housing, living wage jobs, and quality public education & healthcare. We need to build these demands on a foundation of a powerful working class movement and enforce them with strategic actions that impede Trump’s brutal detention & deportation tactics.
- Sign Juntos’ petition to Mayor Kenney
- Call Kenney at (215) 686-2181
- Attend a Socialist Alternative public meeting: July 26, 6:30-8:30pm at Repair the World (4029 Market Street)