PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - A convicted child rapist has plead guilty to illegally re-entering the U.S. Many are now highlighting this local case as an example of the fractious relationship between the City of Philadelphia and ICE.
Juan Ramon Vasquez may spend the next 20 years of his life in a Pennsylvania prison for the rape of a child. A rape the region's top federal prosecutor says should never have happened.
"That was entirely preventable because if the ICE detainer had been respected he would have been taken into custody, deported and never committed this crime," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.
ICE is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—the agency enforcing immigration laws.
McSwain says in 2014 Vasquez—a Honduran in the country illegally—was being held in a city jail. ICE asked the city to hold him on a "detainer" to keep him locked-up--and hand him over to Immigration for deportation. Instead, the city let him go. According to court records, in July of 2016 Vasquez raped the child.
"If they had gotten a warrant we would have turned the person over nothing of this would have happened," Mayor Jim Kenney said. Jeff Cole asked, "If the city had held the detainer a child would not have been raped?" Mayor Kenney replied, "Against the order of a Common Pleas Court Judge."
Mayor Kenney, attending a press conference Wednesday on illegal guns, forcefully defended the city's policy of rejecting ICE detainers for the undocumented without a judge's warrant to hold them. He says six times last year the city handed over people it was holding when the feds got a warrant.
But McSwain, appointed United States Attorney by President Trump, who's staked out a get-tough immigration policy, argues the city gave Vasquez a "free pass."
"What really fosters trust between law enforcement and the community is respect for the rule of law in including immigration laws," McSwain said.
Mayor Kenney agrees the case is horrible, but argues the solution is as simple as getting a legal document.
"You do see this as a tragedy. No other way to look at it?" Cole asked. Mayor Kenney replied, "An absolute tragedy, but all they had to do is get a warrant and we would have turned him over."
McSwain says those detainers are valid and legal and no federal judge has ruled otherwise. He says he's hoping for common ground on this issue with the city.