Fact Check: ICE Report Inconsistent With Local Jurisdictions In PA

Mar 27, 2017

After President Donald Trump’s executive order, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were tasked with publishing reports on a regular basis showing how local law enforcement agencies respond to detainer requests, and what happens thereafter.

The first report released this week stated its purpose was to show which law enforcement agencies declined detainers during Jan. 28 through Feb. 3. But much of the information provided about Pennsylvania jurisdictions was incomplete, misleading or, according to some officials, flat-out wrong.

The highlights, fact-checked and explained:

Franklin County

First blush: Franklin County made the top in ICE’s list of most uncooperative jurisdictions in the U.S.

Fine print: ICE says the list was based on its expectation that jurisdictions would decline all detainer requests based on past responses. The agency issued five requests to Franklin County during the report’s time-frame.

Fact-check: Franklin County received requests for three inmates (not five) and none were declined. One remains in custody at Franklin County Prison; the other two were transferred to state Department of Corrections facilities, according to Commissioner David Keller. Keller says the county never gets to the point that it has to decline a detainer due to the frequency and quality of its relationship with ICE.

Franklin won’t honor detainer requests due to liability concerns, as with most Pennsylvania counties.

But Keller says the county provides daily updates to ICE on its jail population, including names and release dates, and allows ICE agents access to inmates for interviews.

Philadelphia  

First blush: ICE issued a detainer request for a Dominican man incarcerated on heroin trafficking charges in Philadelphia, which the city declined Feb. 3. The man was incarcerated since 2015 in the same city where ICE has a field office.

Fine print: The report doesn’t go into details about what, exactly, constitutes a decline. But ICE officials speaking on background say uncooperative agencies typically don’t respond to detainer requests or notify ICE that inmates have been released. So ICE agents aren’t aware a person of interest has been released from custody until the person encounters law enforcement again. The date of that encounter becomes the “decline” date.

Fact-check: The city didn’t release the suspect, whom spokeswoman Ajeenah Amir says is serving a state prison sentence.

First blush: The city of Philadelphia declined ICE’s request to detain a man incarcerated on homicide charges.

Fine print: According to the report’s introductory document, Philadelphia doesn’t allow access to inmates for interviews critical to furthering ICE’s investigation.

Fact-check: Philadelphia does allow ICE access to inmates, according to Amir.

"This is an instance where ICE had the time and opportunity to obtain a warrant but, for whatever reason, did not.  If they had, we would have complied," Amir wrote in an email.

Lebanon officials also contested its county prison being described as "uncooperative" in the report, according to the Lebanon Daily News.

The report does, however, correctly state some other counties' policies, at least one of which (Franklin) has been updated since a Temple University survey took a comprehensive look at the issue.

Chester County

First blush: Chester County wouldn’t hold a convicted probation violator past his release date.

Fine print: ICE agents would’ve had access to inmates as well as county records and files, including inmate release dates, as per Chester County policy (which the ICE report reflects).

Fact-check: Chester County didn’t have custody of any probation violators at the time of the detainer request matching ICE’s description of the inmate, according to county spokeswoman Rebecca Brain. (The only other details provided by ICE is that the person’s country of origin is El Salvador and encountered law enforcement again on Feb. 3).

An ICE official speaking on background says the criminal activity detailed in the report reflects the most serious charge on the person's record, regardless of whether it led to a conviction or was the offense that prompted the detainer request.

But the report doesn't make that clear. And using so few identifying details for individuals makes it extremely difficult to determine who ICE is talking about.

What's next?

The ACLU and other organizations have criticized the report as a way to pressure local law enforcement into adopting potentially damaging, counterproductive, and/or unconstitutional practices.

But the report also calls out agencies like Franklin County with more proactive practices than would be required under Pennsylvania’s anti-sanctuary Senate Bill 10.

Keller says he resents Franklin being lumped in with uncooperative agencies that have no relationship with ICE, but was hoping to learn more about the purpose and compiling of the report from the agents with whom the county works regularly. Keller didn’t go so far as to condemn the report or acknowledge concerns about its implications for perception of public safety in the county.

But County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania Executive Director Doug Hill conceded the report's inaccurate portrayal of some agencies as cavalier.

Hill also called for more clarity from the federal government, saying they should change the law so that detainers aren't merely requests, if what's desired is required compliance.

ICE's Philadelphia office has not provided more information on the specific cases noted in the report.

Spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez from the agency's national headquarters agencies said the agencies highlighted in the report are those that previously said they won't fully comply with detainer requests "or have not provided ICE with sufficient time to allow for the safe transfer of a detainee."

"Should a jurisdiction make a posture change with regard to their policies involving detainers that is captured as a matter of public record and that ICE can point to, ICE will revise the report accordingly," she said.

Find this report and others at the site of our partner, Keystone Crossroads