New Pa. State Police policy that limits cooperation with ICE angers GOP lawmakers

By: - February 25, 2019 5:20 pm

Rep. Martina White, a Philadelphia Republican, has been a leading voice against sanctuary cities in the Pennsylvania legislature.

A new Pennsylvania State Police policy that limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities drew the ire of House Republicans during a Monday budget hearing.

The rules, dated Jan. 30, prohibit state troopers from holding people suspected of being undocumented at the request of federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. It also prevents officers from asking for ID solely to identify a person’s immigration status.

The changes were instituted in response to criticisms from civil rights groups over racial profiling and unregulated investigations about immigration status during traffic stops.

State Police appeared Monday in front of the House Appropriations Committee to discuss their $1.4 billion budget request, but instead took lumps from GOP lawmakers.

The biggest issue for many Republican lawmakers is the new State Police policy not to comply with administrative detainers, or non-binding requests from ICE to search or detain people who may be undocumented.

Rejection of civil detainer requests is often part of so-called “sanctuary” policies to shelter undocumented immigrants. State Police officials rejected that label, as the department will continue to communicate with ICE.

If ICE demands information on a suspected undocumented immigrant, State Police have a legal obligation to provide it, Major Scott Price told the committee.

Under thew new policy, a trooper will also have discretion to contact ICE and “provide pertinent information” after interacting with someone who may be undocumented.

The policy on detainers was changed at the request of chief counsel to limit liability, State Police officials said.

Still, multiple Republicans were less than pleased with the changes.

Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, wouldn’t go as far as her fellow members in labeling Pennsylvania a sanctuary state.

“There is a lot of gray area that needs to be rectified for the citizens across the commonwealth,” she told the Capital-Star. She and GOP Judiciary Chairman Rob Kauffman said they expect to hold a hearing to better understand the new policies.

The last Republican whose district is entirely within Philadelphia, White has authored bills to punish or create liability for sanctuary cities — including her own.

While the new policies made Republicans unhappy, they also aren’t appeasing state civil liberties advocates.

State troopers are claiming a legal responsibility to communicate with ICE, but Vic Walczak — legal director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU — said recent court decisions have chipped away at that interpretation.

That includes a federal court ruling that struck down an attempt to keep federal dollars from Philadelphia because it refused to cooperate in some ways with federal immigration authorities.

Instead, Walczak pointed an opinion by 63 of the country’s big city police chiefs to argue that local enforcement of immigration laws prevents victims and witnesses from coming forward for fear of deportation.

As for honoring ICE detainers, Walczak has personal experience with them. He led a lawsuit that found the city of Allentown and Lehigh County liable for illegally detaining an American citizen without cause at the request of ICE.

Lehigh County paid out $95,000 and soon after stopped cooperating with detainers. Allentown and the federal government paid $50,000.

“ICE detainers do not have the force and effect of law,” Walczak said. “If you rely on them, you do so at your peril.”

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.