Philadelphia, July 16, 2010: District Attorney Seth Williams voted this morning in favor of maintaining a portion of the current Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS) information sharing process already in place with the federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The vote with the other members of the PARS subcommittee, the Honorable Marsha Neilfield, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was unanimous. Mr. Williams reached this decision on his vote after meeting with community groups, ICE officials, and members of the judiciary, and speaking with other District Attorneys across the country. The vote determined that ICE will continue to have access to the PARS database, but only to the portion identifying those who have committed criminal offenses, not to information about victims or witnesses.
Various community groups and immigrant advocacy organizations had voiced concerns that this database access would have a chilling effect on victims. The fear expressed was that some victims might not come forward because they are afraid that their own immigration status would become an issue. However, the District Attorney confirmed with ICE that victim information had not been reviewed in the past by ICE, nor will it be in the future. He has also taken the extra step of working with the Department of Technology to ensure additional protection of victims by changing the computer system itself. The system now will no longer make victim and witness information available to ICE.
“This morning I voted to allow ICE to continue to have access to the PARS database,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “I did so in order to ensure that law enforcement continues to protect Philadelphians from individuals who, after having entered the United States illegally, decide to commit crimes in our streets and neighborhoods. As District Attorney of Philadelphia, it is my job to keep Philadelphians safe by prosecuting those who have victimized others. A critical tool to identifying offenders and preventing future crimes is sharing relevant information with other law enforcement agencies. This is precisely what the 9-11 Commission found when it concluded poor information sharing was the single greatest failure of our government leading to the 9-11 attacks. A nation at war, we must work diligently and collaboratively to find more ways of sharing more information with other law enforcement agencies.
It would be irresponsible to try to prevent a federal law enforcement agency from being able to identify those who have committed crimes in Philadelphia. The PARS database contains information about those who have been arrested for committing misdemeanors and felonies; information which is not available through any other source. Authorizing ICE to have access to this database affords them the discretion to begin legal proceedings specifically authorized by federal law against illegal aliens who have chosen to victimize others. These offenders at issue in this discussion are not admirable people just trying to make a better life for their families. They are criminals who most frequently victimize those in the very community in which they live.”
Some examples of individuals whom ICE has identified with access to the PARS database include:
- An illegal immigrant who pulled a gun on a Philadelphia police officer on May 21, 2010
- An illegal immigrant who robbed and murdered a man in a pizza store in Northeast Philadelphia in the fall of 2009
- An illegal immigrant found guilty of selling the gun used to kill Sgt. Patrick McDonald.
If ICE did not have access to PARS, these criminals may have been able to continue to live in Philadelphia and victimize other Philadelphians once their term of incarceration expired.
Opponents of allowing ICE access to the PARS database claim that ICE targets crime victims or witnesses who are here illegally. This claim is not true. Under the renewed contract, ICE will not have access to any victim and witness information. “This is an important change to the information sharing process,” continued the District Attorney, “I have been assured by ICE that they only use the PARS database to identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested for committing crimes. I am sensitive to the needs of our immigrant communities and I am committed to prosecuting anyone who seeks to victimize those who reside in Philadelphia.
In short, my vote this morning was a vote for public safety. It was a vote to further protect victims of crime. I am pleased ICE will continue to have access to PARS, and that we have all worked together to identify wrongdoers while ensuring that victim and witness information is protected.”