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ICE faces new lawsuit over Pennsylvania arrest records

Advocates are suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a window into agents’ arrest tactics.

  • Alanna Elder
FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE agents serve an employment audit notice at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Los Angeles. A federal judge has dismissed the federal government's claim that U.S. law trumps two California laws intended to protect immigrants who are in the country illegally. The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Mendez follows his ruling last week that found California was within its rights to pass two of the three sanctuary laws. He ruled Monday, July 9, 2018, that the federal government could proceed with its attempt to block part of a third California sanctuary law.

Chris Carlson / The Associated Press

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE agents serve an employment audit notice at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Los Angeles. A federal judge has dismissed the federal government's claim that U.S. law trumps two California laws intended to protect immigrants who are in the country illegally. The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Mendez follows his ruling last week that found California was within its rights to pass two of the three sanctuary laws. He ruled Monday, July 9, 2018, that the federal government could proceed with its attempt to block part of a third California sanctuary law.

(Harrisburg) — Advocates are suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a window into agents’ arrest tactics.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic filed the lawsuit Tuesday. It demands ICE release I-213s, or documents that agents use to record the circumstances of an arrest, created under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Field Office. That office runs operations in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia.

The lawsuit draws from reporting by Propublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer, showing how in recent years the Philadelphia Field Office has ramped up arrests, picking up more immigrants who have never had a criminal conviction than any other ICE jurisdiction in the country. The reports also describe questionable tactics, like meeting immigrants who are appearing for court dates.

Courthouse employees have collaborated with ICE agents in 13 counties in Pennsylvania, according to a report referenced in the lawsuit. Although the Inquirer reported in April of last year that ICE agreed to stop arresting people inside courthouses in Philadelphia, the plaintiffs argue that agents “can and are” conducting arrests outside of courthouses.

“This has a really chilling effect on folks who are trying to show up to the court dates,” said Muneeba Talukder, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Immigrant Rights Legal Fellow.

“From time to time, you’ll hear reporting on especially egregious cases,” Talukder said, referencing the story of a mother whom ICE arrested as she was dropping her kids off at school. More common, though, are collateral arrests – arrests of the coworkers or family members of the person agents planned to apprehend.

“Having even that information, that this was a person that we picked up as we were pursuing our main targets I think is really helpful,” she said, “to just put some light on the fact that enforcement priorities have been effectively just lifted and it’s just picking up anyone who they want to.”

To root out arrests that may violate the law and better understand the circumstances that land migrants in detention, the advocacy groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the I-213s last year.

That request was denied. ICE said it would violate the privacy of the immigrants who were arrested. But Talukder disagrees.

“The privacy argument doesn’t make sense because they can redact the records they provide to us and responses to FOIA requests are often redacted,” she said.

ICE also denied the advocates’ appeal, according to the lawsuit, arguing that time that the request was “unduly burdensome”, or too costly to realistically fulfill. The lawsuit filed yesterday is the advocates’ next step in forcing ICE to provide the documents.

Agency officials said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

 

WITF’s Alanna Elder is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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