A recent article states that since President Trump took office, deportation officers no longer have to adhere to Obama-era mandates that focused on limiting enforcement resources for deporting immigrants with serious criminal convictions. As the White House describes it, ICE has been “unshackled” in the era of Trump. Throughout the country, ICE has been rounding up people who have been living and working here for years, if not decades, with little fear of being harassed by the federal agency.
The state of Pennsylvania in particular has seen federal agents aggressively embrace their newfound freedom. In fact, in 2017, the Philadelphia ICE field office arrested more undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions than any other ICE office in the region. This office oversees ICE enforcement in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia.
Many of the immigrants arrested by ICE in this region were living in buildings or worked in restaurants or traveled on rural roads that ICE was staking out. Some were mushroom pickers who got pulled over without cause; some worked as dishwashers in pizzerias that got raided without warrants; and others were detained because they loosely resembled another person who was ICE’s intended target.
The arrests described above are known as “at-large” arrests. These arrests terrify immigrant communities, because they break up families, disrupt workplaces, and force people further into hiding. Philadelphia ICE appears to prefer this type of arrest method. According to the 2017 data for monthly at-large arrests in each of ICE’s 24 regional offices, 64% of the immigrants arrested in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware had no criminal convictions. Nationally, only 38% of immigrant arrests were of people without convictions.
ICE in the Pennsylvania region is emboldened by the new commander-in-chief’s insistence to disregard previous norms that distinguished undocumented immigrants based on their family ties, work records, and their conduct in this country. The number of immigrant arrests without criminal convictions reflects an organization that values high arrest numbers, and one with little accountability in a system that rarely scrutinizes these types of arrests.
ICE officers under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia regional office are now routinely detaining immigrants they encounter by chance when they set out to arrest somebody else. This is known as a “collateral” arrest. These ICE officers have also informally expanded their definition of “criminal alien” to include undocumented immigrants who have traffic tickets or who have committed minor infractions like loitering.