State Police attempt to assuage GOP concerns on new immigration policies

    The Pennsylvania State Police clarified their new policies on undocumented immigrants at a House hearing Wednesday. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

    In February, Republicans expressed grave concerns over new Pennsylvania State Police policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

    Some state House Republicans went as far as saying Pennsylvania had been made a de-facto “sanctuary state.”

    In a follow-up hearing Wednesday, State Police officials told the House Judiciary Committee that their policies do not prevent cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They only limit troopers from detaining or prolonging interactions with people who may be undocumented solely to give ICE time to arrive on the scene.

    “Unfortunately, there have been some public misconceptions,” Major James Degnan told the committee.

    Under the new policies, State Police no longer acknowledge administrative detainers, or civil requests from ICE to hold suspected undocumented immigrants.

    If a detainer is wrongly honored, state and local agencies can be held liable. Such a case kept an American citizen of Puerto Rican descent in prison for three days in November 2008 and led Lehigh County to no longer comply with detainers. The individual also won $145,000 in damages.

    Some Republicans were still not satisfied, including Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, who has previously pushed to punish cities that limit cooperation with ICE.

    She compared the State Police policy to ignoring a request from Interpol, an international police agency, to question the logic.

    After the meeting, White did not clarify her point, but said she appreciates the State Police’s efforts in making sure their policy “is very clear, concise, and consistent with federal law.”

    Kerri Talbot, an immigration attorney with The Immigration Hub, a progressive think tank, didn’t buy into the comparison.

    She said State Police would be able to see any outstanding Interpol requests through a typical federal database. These requests would be backed by a judge’s order.

    “Information in Interpol would be criminal warrants from other countries,” Talbot said. “Immigration detainers are just a request to hold someone to look into their [immigration] status, which is a civil violation. So they are not comparable.”

    Whether the hearing will inspire further legislative action is unclear. Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, suggested that lawmakers apply the new State Police rules to every commonwealth police agency.

    For some Republicans, the issue isn’t the State Police.

    Degnan told the story of a case where ICE didn’t respond to eight different requests to pick up an undocumented immigrant. Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks, pinned the blame on the feds.

    “It’s ICE who’s not doing what they’re supposed to do,” Jozwiak said.

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