From the Field

Immigrants, Faith Leaders in Philadelphia Begin 40 Day Fast to End Police/ICE Collaboration

Imagine 2050 Staff • Jun 27, 2013

By Nicole Kligerman, Community Organizer at New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia 

On June 22, over 65 immigrants, allies, and religious leaders and 13 faith communities in Philadelphia began “40 Days of Fasting, Action, and Prayer” to demand an end to the collaboration between the Philadelphia Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The fast, organized by the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (NSM), seeks to pressure Philadelphia officials to end local policies that result in mass deportation. Even if federal comprehensive immigration reform is passed by Congress, millions will be excluded from achieving citizenship and local deportation programs will continue to separate families and endanger public safety.In addition to participating in Secure Communities, Philadelphia is unique in granting ICE direct and unprecedented access to the local police’s electronic database.

Since 2008, the City of Philadelphia has granted ICE access to the database (Preliminary Arraignment System, or “PARS”), allowing federal immigration officials to search individuals in police custody by country of origin in order to target foreign-born individuals.  ICE requires Philadelphia police to hold potentially deportable individuals in local custody until that person can be transferred to federal custody to enter deportation proceedings.

New Sanctuary Movement’s “40 Days of Fasting, Action, and Prayer” participant.


The result? The separation of families, violation of civil rights, increased racial profiling, waste of precious tax dollars in a city facing deep budget cuts, and the endangerment of public safety as many undocumented Philadelphians do not feel safe reporting crimes and cooperating with the police.  

Local immigrant rights organizations, including NSM, have been organizing for meaningful policy change that will help protect families and basic human rights.  In 2011, NSM and other immigrant rights organizations successfully pushed the Philadelphia City Council to unanimously pass a non-binding resolution discontinuing ICE’s access to the PARS database in 2011. Despite this, the practice continues and the local police continue to funnel individuals in their custody into deportation.

Under the existing policies, the Mayor, District Attorney, and President of the Municipal Courts  in the City of Philadelphia are able to terminate the license and practice at any time, creating an opportunity for our elected officials to end this immoral and financially burdensome practice.

As an interfaith, multicultural immigrant rights organization, NSM has mobilized 13 diverse Philadelphia-area faith communities and over 65 individuals to fast and hold worship services focused on immigrant justice during the 40 day campaign.  In demonstrating broad public support of undocumented Philadelphia residents and daily video testimonials by fasters, they hope that by July 31st, the last day of their fast, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, District Attorney Seth Williams, and President Judge Marsha Neifield will end the license that gives ICE access to the PARS database and order local police to stop honoring ICE holds.  

In Washington DC, the Senate and House debate federal immigration reform bills that do not address record deportation rates. In Philadelphia, undocumented immigrants and their allies go hungry for 40 days to demand change. Can the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection live up to its name by ending the collaboration between the police and ICE?


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