A multi-part and deeply-reported joint investigation published by the Philadelphia Inquirer and ProPublica details how the Philadelphia regional office of ICE is arresting, detaining, and deporting a large number of immigrants without criminal records, driving up its deportation numbers by focusing on people who are simply driving to work, smoking a cigarette, or going about their daily lives.
The investigation also shines a light on the fact that state and local police in the region are serving as de facto arms of ICE, and see enforcement of federal, civil immigration laws as their mission, despite never having been deputized or trained to do so.
The findings echo what we’ve been seeing in other midwestern states like Michigan and Ohio, where the Detroit regional office of ICE, under the direction of Rebecca Adducci, has been particularly aggressive in detaining and deporting people without criminal records. Multiple cases out of this office have garnered national and even international attention for their baseless cruelty and utter lack of common sense.
As Philadelphia Inquirer and ProPublica point out:
Each ICE field office has its own culture, and sometimes its own policies and procedures. Each office, too, has a different regional context, some working in urban centers under the watchful eye of established immigrant communities, others in more rural or suburban areas newly grappling with the immigration issue…
Philadelphia ICE’s region runs the gamut. It faces resistance in Pittsburgh and especially in Philadelphia, where most of the region’s undocumented immigrants live. But it has found allies in its rural and Rust Belt zones, where anti-immigrant sentiment runs hotter and where some local economies benefit from federal immigration detention contracts. (ICE paid York County $19.65 million in fiscal 2017 to house immigrant detainees in its prison.)
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deportation Defense Coordinator of America’s Voice:
ICE is not at all focused on deporting high-value targets, they are going after the easiest people to find, the ordinary guy driving to work or standing outside just minding his business. In rural areas, they are also using the local police as deputies, without any sort of authorization or training. Together, local police and ICE are terrorizing communities and making ‘driving while brown’ a deportable offense. They’re doing this because they think they can get away with it, which is why exposes like this one are so important. We need to shine a light on their policies and practices because they work for us, the taxpayers, and they must be held accountable for their actions.
Part one of the investigation, “In Pennsylvania, it’s open season on undocumented immigrants” includes the following:
Since Trump took office, deportation officers have been unshackled, as the White House describes it, from an Obama-era mandate to focus limited enforcement resources on deporting immigrants with serious criminal convictions. Across the country, they have been rounding up people like Franco who have sunk roots in this country, living for years, if not decades, with little fear of apprehension.
Nowhere, however, have federal agents more aggressively embraced their newfound freedom than in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware, an investigation by ProPublica and the Inquirer and Daily News found.
In 2017, the Philadelphia office of ICE, with agents fanning out into communities across its three-state region, arrested more undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions than any of the 23 other ICE offices in the country. This is especially striking given that Pennsylvania’s undocumented population ranks 16th in the country, with West Virginia’s and Delaware’s far behind that.
Part two of the investigation, “For cops who want to round up illegal immigrants, Pennsylvania is a free-for-all,” includes the following:
Using tactics that raise legal questions about racial profiling and unlawful arrest, local police and state troopers have stopped Hispanic drivers, questioned them and their passengers about their immigration status, and then detained them without warrants…
…With the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, the extent to which local and state police should cooperate with ICE has become a simmering issue nationally.