Nineteen Pa. counties are actively collaborating with ICE to deport immigrants in local custody, new report finds

By: - June 28, 2019 6:30 am

Mexico–United States barrier at the border of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA. The crosses represent migrants who died in the crossing attempt. Some identified, some not. Surveillance tower in the background. WikiMedia Commons Image by Tomascastelazo.

Pennsylvania’s county governments are “systematically cooperating” with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to deport undocumented immigrants who end up in local police custody.

The fear of arrest has created widespread unease, stress, and uncertainty among Pennsylvania’s immigrant communities, a new report by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law found. The research was undertaken at the request of Juntos, a South Philadelphia-based advocacy organization that works with the Latinx immigrant community.

“Under the Trump administration, arrests of immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have increased in Pennsylvania,” the report’s authors write. “The lack of transparency or consistency in ICE practices creates pervasive uncertainty, stress, and anxiety for communities.”

The report, released Tuesday, found that 19 Pennsylvania counties, many with large immigrant populations, are actively collaborating with federal immigration authorities. The report notably does not include Philadelphia, which calls itself a “welcoming city.” Local authorities do not comply with informal ICE requests to hold people suspected of being undocumented.

Source: Temple University Sheller Center for Social Justice

“County jails and probation departments, for example, regularly share information about immigrants with ICE pursuant to informal agreements or formal written policies,” the report reads. “They also actively help ICE to locate and arrest immigrants. Further, counties allow ICE to use their jails and prisons solely for purposes of detaining persons accused of violating civil immigration laws.”

“In Pennsylvania, there are currently seven county jails and one county-run family detention center that have signed federal contracts to detain immigrants for ICE. Despite the significant human cost, counties are profiting from the growing numbers of immigrants civil justice,” the report continues.

As the report makes clear, Pennsylvania county jails are the “primary facilities” that detain immigrants for ICE. In addition, these county facilities have contracts with ICE or the U.S. Marshals Services, where they rent out beds to detain immigrants “on a per-diem basis.”

According to the report, York, Pike, Clinton, Cambria, Erie, Beaver, and Delaware counties have such contracts. And “with the exception of the privately-run Delaware County’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility, these jails are county-run institutions. Berks is the eighth county that detains immigrants for ICE, but does so through a county-run family detention facility in Leesport.”

Source: Temple University Sheller Center for Social Justice

The report found that county jails “systematically share information with ICE on a weekly, if not daily basis,” and that information sharing is the result of an informal practice. A few counties, such as Chester and Franklin counties, have this information-sharing ingrained in written policy. And when counties do share such information they “provide a roster of who is being held or more specifically provide ICE with access to booking or release information,” the report reads.

When inmates are booked into county jails, they’re routinely asked for their place of birth, citizenship status, and a Social Security number. Thirteen of the 14 counties that provided Temple researchers with information about their booking practices asked one or more of those questions, the report indicated.

Source: Temple University/Sheller Center

Three counties with large immigrant populations — Dauphin, Lancaster, and Lehigh — acknowledged that they share that booking information with ICE. In Dauphin County, for instance, policy states that “Any/all information gathered at the intake process is shared with ICE. ICE is able to obtain any/all information entered at the time of processing.”

According to the report, “ICE appears to use place of birth information to target immigrants for enforcement.”

Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said counties have some leeway to set their own policy in cooperating with ICE. While he was unfamiliar with the specifics of the Temple study, Hill said that, generally, counties “have an obligation to send notification to ICE, and all counties are complying with that requirement.”

Cooperation from local police departments, however, appears to be less coordinated, the report found.

“The majority of the police departments we examined in Pennsylvania do not have written policies or arrangements governing ICE collaboration,” the report reads. “The vacuum has created an opening for individual police officers to act based on their own personal inclinations, and for ICE to solicit greater levels of assistance from individual police and police departments.”

But counties and municipalities are not bound to cooperate with federal authorities if they choose not to do so, the report adds.

“Localities have the legal right to make deliberate choices about the role, if any, they play in ICE’s enforcement scheme. Localities nationwide are enacting policies that, for example, restrict the information shared with ICE, limit ICE’s access to local jails, prohibit inquiries into immigration status or place of birth, or more generally prohibit the use of local resources to engage in federal immigration enforcement,” the document reads.

As counties cooperate with ICE, leaders in immigrant communities have been training people about their rights during encounters with law enforcement, Juntos spokesman Miguel Andrade told the Capital-Star.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from people outside of Philadelphia” who have found themselves in immigration trouble after relatively minor encounters with law enforcement, Andrade said. “People want to be able to defend themselves.”

But there’s some suggestion that these hardline policies could change.

Recently, some “localities have also started to cancel their lucrative federal contracts to detain immigrants in local jails or prisons,” the report continues. “Such cancellations suggest a discomfort with Trump administration policies and ‘an attempt to disengage from federal policies seen as harmful to immigrant families.'”

And “in Pennsylvania, local communities too are organizing and advocating for more immigrant-friendly policies at the local level. We hope that the information provided in this report will assist local communities and organizations in shaping their positions on these issues,” the report reads.

Read the full report below:

Temple Sheller Center Study “Interlocking Systems” by jmicek on Scribd

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.