ICE agents arrest mother dropping off kid at South Philly pre-school; district reviews protocols

UPDATED: 8:58 a.m., Feb. 19, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A pregnant mother was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Feb. 11 as she dropped her child off at a South Philadelphia Head Start program.

An ICE spokesman said she was later released for humanitarian reasons, but School District of Philadelphia officials are concerned about the time and place of the arrest.

"We've been working with the city to ensure that there are no efforts to concentrate around schools, at the opening and closing of schools," Superintendent William Hite said.

Hite said the mother had just dropped off her pre-schooler at Eliza B. Kirkbride Elementary School, when ICE agents took her into custody. The principal called district staff.

Hite said, in light of the incident, the district has recirculated instructions about what to do if ICE requests information or, as in this case, ICE agents arrive at a school.

"We're making sure that all of our school staff have the information they need in terms of what they do when individuals come into the schools, what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot share," he said.

Hite emphasized that schools have strict privacy policies, which include rules about immigration status.

"Children do not have to give us proof of birth or proof of citizenship. We educate all children, and schools must remain a safe place where families and children can come," Hite said.

ICE spokesman Adrian Smith said the woman was a 30-year-old Honduran national who had been ordered out of the United States in May 2012, in absentia, for immigration violations. He declined to provide information about why she was released.

In an emailed statement, he wrote "Humanitarian factors and potential mitigating circumstances are considered for every individual encountered by ICE. A detention decision is made on a case-by-case basis based upon the totality of the circumstances."

The incident came three days before President Donald Trump announced plans to send Customs and Border Patrol agents to augment ICE in "sanctuary cities," such as Philadelphia, which limit cooperation with the agency.

The policy has created many points of tension between the city and federal officials. A year ago, the city won a lawsuit challenging the Justice Department's ability to punish it for the policy by withholding federal grant funds.

A city spokesman called the woman's arrest "an isolated incident" and said city officials had been in touch with ICE to ensure they were following their policy prohibiting surveillance at sensitive locations such as schools, churches and hospitals. Officials urged families to continue bringing their children to school.

Mayor Jim Kenney said he was aware of the incident but not the details. Asked if he had knew why ICE had apparently violated its own policy on avoiding arrests at schools, he said, "This is the reign of terror."


CLARIFICATION: This updates an earlier version of the story following a response from ICE representatives.