A new in-depth report, published by the Philadelphia Inquirer and ProPublica, details the harrowing stories of two dozen cases in which state and local police acted as direct channels into deportation proceedings for many undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions.
Since Trump’s crackdown on immigration, many states and counties have limited how police can interrogate immigrants about their legal status or detain them for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without a warrant. Inversely, dozens of law enforcement agencies in 17 states have created partnerships with ICE to train officers to enforce immigration laws.
Pennsylvania is in neither group.
Instead of an arrangement with ICE or a concrete dismissal of immigration enforcement, the state is in neutral territory which has developed into precariousness for many immigrants who encounter law enforcement. Will they let them go? Or will they take it upon themselves to act as unofficial members of ICE?
As it turns out, many officers are taking the latter route and arresting undocumented immigrants—most often during highway traffic stops in which citations where rarely issues.
In Lemoyne, Cumberland County, a West Shore Regional police officer pulled over a driver for speeding, but called ICE once he discovered he had no license. Although the driver had no criminal record, he was arrested, put into the cop car and driven to a McDonald’s parking lot, to be handed over to a federal agent. In North Versailles Township, police officers called ICE about an undocumented immigrant, Wilfrido Perez, who was involved in a car accident. Although Perez was in the process of legalizing his status, he and four fellow construction workers were arrested.
While police officers in Philadelphia are trained to avoid asking people about their immigration status, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSPD) has zero guidelines when it comes to encounters with undocumented immigrants. According to a PSPD spokesman, each traffic stop is considered unique, and so it’s the responsibly of their officers to “be on the alert for drug, gun, and human traffickers” and to gather information as they deem necessary.
However, this enforcement could make police vulnerable to civil damages in court.
"It should be noted that because Pennsylvania law enforcement officers are not permitted to independently enforce federal immigration law, they cannot extend the period of an investigatory stop to investigate immigration status without risking a constitutional violation," wrote Stephen A. Zappala Jr., the district attorney for Allegheny County.
In the report, The Inquirer details the actions of Luke C. Macke, a state trooper who turned over at least 19 undocumented immigrants to federal deportation officers last year. Data shows that Macke wrote an increasing amount of tickets from 2015 to 2017, with many of them going to Hispanics: 6.3% in 2015, 9.5% in 2016, and 14.5% in 2017. This, despite the fact that Cumberland County, the heart of his patrol area, is only 3.7% Hispanic; Pennsylvania is 7% Hispanic.
Rover Estrada, just one of many who was pulled over by Macke, calls it "hunting for illegals.”
Last summer, Macke apprehended two men after surprising them during their smoke break. Although they had done nothing to warrant the arrest, Macke approached the men and asked if they were illegal. After admitting they were, the men were handcuffed and taken to the local police station. Friends of the two men—Melonie Wright and her undocumented husband Yancarlos Mendoza—went to the state police barracks to find out more.
As Yancarlos purchased a soda from the vending machine, he was asked by a police officer to empty his pockets, simply because he was speaking Spanish. Once the officer realized Yancarlos was undocumented, he was taken into the same holding cell with the two men arrested earlier.
Yancarlos spent six months in jail.
His lawyer argued that he would face gang-related persecution if he were sent back to El Salvador. The immigration judge agreed and granted him "withholding of removal, a form of protection from deportation.
Despite Yancarlos’ “win,” many undocumented immigrants from Mexican, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries are held in detention centers across the country. And despite no previous convictions, they’ll be forced to wait and hear if they’ll be allowed to stay in the U.S. or forced to go back to their home country: away from their family, job and life they’ve built here.
If you or someone you know has been detained, and now possibly faces deportation, please contact our York immigration lawyer at The Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh today. We can ensure your voice is heard.