All Politics Is Local: What You Can Do to Fight ICE

#AbolishICE is gaining momentum. How activists pressure city governments and corporations to stop cooperating with and profiting from mass deportations.

“Apply Heat, Melt ICE,” reads one sign popping up at marches and protest encampments across the country.

“ICE is rounding people up in a sanctuary city. ICE get out,” says a banner at the camp outside Philadelphia’s city hall.

All over the internet, and increasingly in the speeches of politicians, from Democratic Socialist Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, there’s the growing chorus: #AbolishICE, #AbolishICE, #AbolishICE.

Proponents disagree about how to make that call a reality. And immigrant rights organizers admit they’re scrambling to catch up with the momentum of a position that, until recently, seemed like a fringe viewpoint. But activists mean what they say — they want the 15-year-old agency scrapped. They’re unwilling to wait for mythical “comprehensive immigration reform,” nor will they settle for a return to more relaxed pre-2003 immigration enforcement.

But to abolish a federal agency is no small task, and the likelihood that it would it happen as a top-down decision from the Trump administration is virtually nil. Meanwhile, most families separated at the border remain separatedsome, perhaps, permanently — and deportations continue apace, at workplaces, courthouses and private homes.

So all around the country, immigrants and their allies have localized what may seem a daunting national fight. They hunt for political and economic levers that would be more susceptible to public pressure than a federal government who has shown itself increasingly hostile to migrant rights.

It’s not just the encampments popping up outside of ICE and politicians’ offices around the country. Those encampments serve a purpose, but the protests are powered by tangible policy demands.

In Philadelphia, the encampment outside City Hall is plastered with the slogan “End PARS,” a reference to the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, the mechanism whereby the city shares arrest data in real time with ICE. In New York, the immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha organizes campaigns to pressure companies such as Amazon to end their connections with the agency. A group of researchers is training people around the country to find out if their politicians profit from family detention. And activists in cities such as Columbus, Ohio are pushing officials to make the city a true sanctuary in practice, not just in name only.

The movement can point to some wins. Contra Costa County, outside of San Francisco, announced they’re ending a contract that currently allows ICE to detain some immigrants in the county prison. Facilities in Springfield, Oregon; Williamson County, Texas; and Arlington, Virginia have done the same. (Though some who support abolishing ICE do sound a note of caution — what will become of those detainees when the contract ends?)

“When I say we gotta fight local, I’m saying this as someone who has been organizing for 10 years now,” said Jasmine Rivera recently, on a webinar for people who plan to lobby Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. She works with Shut Down Berks, a campaign that aims to close a detention center in the Philadelphia suburbs.

“We have seen historically that when you fight locally, that is how you have the most impact on the national,” Rivera continued. “But let’s be honest. We’re not going to change the hearts and minds of Trump or ICE. So when we take a local strategy of city, county [and] state, creating these ICE-free spaces where we say no, our police are not going to cooperate with ICE, we are not going to let you use our detention centers, we are going to make it impossible for ICE to operate.”

Hold Cities Accountable: Provide True “Sanctuary”

In their modern iteration, sanctuary cities date back to the 1980s, as a response to waves of refugees arriving from Central America with no promise of asylum, though one could also argue the tradition dates back to states that refused to cooperate with the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Trump Administration’s policies have forced many cities and municipalities to pick a side. Cities such as Oakland have ended agreements to cooperate with ICE, while cities such as Miami, facing pressure from the Trump administration, have ended their sanctuary policies instead. Cities in Texas, where state law prohibits sanctuary cities, are getting creative with other ways to protect undocumented immigrants.

The problem for those immigrants is that “sanctuary city” remains a title that’s easy to claim, hard to define, and even harder to enforce. In declaring themselves sanctuaries — as over 560 cities, counties, and states have done — these localities can mean very different things. Some instruct police not to ask about immigration status, others vows that local law enforcement will not detain suspects for the federal government, or otherwise do the work of immigration enforcement for them.

But ICE can detour around those promises in myriad ways. So advocates and organizers are pushing their cities (and counties) to follow through on the sanctuary commitment.

The protest encampment outside City Hall, Philadelphia. In early July police cleared out the original encampment outside federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Take Philadelphia. Mayor Jim Kenney has been a vocal and outspoken opponent of the Trump Administration’s policies, particularly around immigration. He recently scored a victory when a federal judge ruled that the Trump Administration can’t withhold money from the city over its sanctuary policy. Even as a council member, before Trump took office, Kenney championed ending ICE holds in the city, a policy by which noncitizens were held for an additional 48 hours after they ordinarily would have been released from jail. That gave time for ICE agents to pick them up for deportation.

But meanwhile, Philadelphia has a contract that allows ICE real-time access to data on arrests, charges, preliminary arraignment hearings, and bail. Local police may not be turning people over directly to ICE, but information shared through the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, or PARS, still contributes to their detention and deportation.

ICE field office director Simona L. Flores acknowledged as much in a letter this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Though she denied that ICE is using the database to go after victims or witnesses to crimes, she said that the agency “lawfully uses” information from the database, including about an arrestee’s country of birth, “as part of its investigatory efforts.” She also claimed that it was within ICE’s rights to arrest any law-abiding undocumented immigrants they may encounter while pursuing others accused of crimes.

“PARS is being used in a very racial way, because what it collects from immigrants are country of birth and names,” says Blanca Pacheco, assistant director of the New Sanctuary Movement. In other words, PARS doesn’t actually say whether someone has citizenship. “[But] just from country of birth and names, it gives enough suspicion to ICE to think that this person might be undocumented,” said Pacheco.

Then, ICE may show up at their home — or at court.

“This happens often, people getting arrested out of their homes while going to court or when done with their cases,” says Pacheco. “We have another case where a person finishes probation and does everything he needs to do that the judge ordered, and then one day he was leaving for work and…

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