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Critics Say State Police ICE Policy Undermines Public Safety

The policy allows state police to question immigration status if they believe a law has been broken. ( Michael Jastremski for openphoto.net)
The policy allows state police to question immigration status if they believe a law has been broken. ( Michael Jastremski for openphoto.net)
March 25, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Civil liberties advocates fear a new immigration enforcement policy adopted by Pennsylvania State Police will enable practices shown to be damaging to families.

A coalition of organizations says the new policy takes a few steps in the right direction. It forbids state police from detaining anyone for Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a judicial warrant or for the sole purpose of investigating their immigration status.

But according to Golnaz Fakhimi, immigrant rights attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the policy continues to entangle state police with ICE in ways not required by law. For example, it allows police to question a person's immigration status if they believe any law, including traffic violations or immigration laws, may have been broken.

"Our concern is that that explicit permission is going to allow troopers on the ground to continue to engage in this unnecessary and ultimately harmful questioning,” Fakhimi said.

Prior to the adoption of the policy, the state police had no guidelines. Community groups have raised concerns about racial profiling and collusion with ICE.

But Fakhimi believes the exceptions for questioning still allow profiling. And she pointed out that, although not required by law, the new policy does mandate that state police inform ICE any time they arrest someone who is a foreign national.

"The way the policy defines 'foreign national' is broad enough to sweep in, or at least arguably sweep in, dual nationals or naturalized U.S. citizens,” she said.

The policy also allows the state police to share any information they gather with ICE, whether or not an arrest is made. Fakhimi added that when state law enforcement acts as an extension of immigration authorities, it discourages immigrants, their families and loved ones, including citizens and permanent residents, from coming forward when they witness or are victims of crimes.

"What's crucial to public safety in our Commonwealth is that all community members feel like they can approach the police when needed,” Fakhimi said. “And when that's not the case, it hurts public safety for everyone."

She said as a policy rather than a legal mandate, Gov. Tom Wolf could exert pressure to institute changes, or the Pennsylvania State Police could make modifications on their own.

More information is available here.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA