Pennsylvania local governments are heavily involved with federal immigration enforcement

A report released today, Interlocking Systems: How Pennsylvania Counties and Local Police Are Assisting ICE to Deport Immigrants, reveals the extent of collaboration between local governments and ICE in the era of the Trump administration. Many local governments in Pennsylvania have made the choice to actively engage and support federal immigration enforcement. In contrast, other local governments across the country have opted not to use their local resources to assist ICE.

The report was prepared for Juntos by Amy Chin-Arroyo (‘20), Solena Laigle (‘20), and Prof. Jennifer Lee with the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic.

Pennsylvania counties, for example, are consistently collaborating with ICE pursuant to written policies or informal practices. County jails and probation departments regularly share information about immigrants and help ICE to locate and arrest immigrants. Local police collaboration with ICE appears to be less systematic and mostly ad hoc, with individual officers choosing to become involved in federal immigration enforcement.

Further, the report provides information about the eight federal contracts in Pennsylvania to detain immigrants in county jails for civil immigration violations. It details the significant human costs of jailing such immigrants while counties are profiting off the growing numbers of immigrants in civil detention.

Most recently, some cities and towns have canceled their lucrative federal contracts to detain immigrants in county jails or prisons. Local governments are reconsidering how to best use their resources to serve their local communities rather than the federal ICE enforcement machinery.

Some of the key findings from the report are outlined below:

  • County jails systematically share information with ICE on a weekly, if not daily basis.
  • County probation officers work with ICE to entice immigrants to come in for appointments so they may be arrested by ICE.
  • Pennsylvania counties receive millions of dollars for jailing ICE detainees, who are being held for civil immigration violations.
  • In 2017 and 2018, the ICE detainee population in Pennsylvania increased.
  • Inspection reports of these county jails have revealed that ICE detainees lack access to medical care.
  • ICE has actively courted police departments in Pennsylvania to engage in federal immigration enforcement.
  • The lack of formal written policies in police departments about interactions with ICE has created an opening for individual police officers to act based on their own personal inclinations.

All documents obtained from counties and police departments through the Right to Know Law are available here.


Popular anti-wage theft strategies may not be effective

A newly released study conducted by Prof. Jennifer Lee and co-author Prof. Annie Smith compiled 141 state and local anti-wage theft laws enacted over roughly the past decade. In reviewing these laws, they found that the most popular anti-wage theft strategies involve authorizing worker complaints, creating or enhancing penalties, or mandating employers to disclose information to workers about their wage-related rights. Lessons learned about these regulatory strategies in other contexts, however, raise serious questions about whether these state and local laws can be successful. At the same time, they identified more promising regulatory innovations, such as new collaborative approaches to enhance agency enforcement.

Given the hostility to low-wage worker rights at the federal level, this study hopefully informs advocacy groups and policymakers that are attempting to address the pernicious practice of wage theft at the state and local level. A review of the study by Prof. Sachin Pandya can be found in Jotwell. Additional data from the study can also be accessed here.

Restrict inquiry into immigration status in unrelated cases, law professors urge

If you’re in court for a landlord-tenant case, or an auto accident or domestic violence hearing, should the other side be allowed to ask about your immigration status? Common sense suggests that the answer is no. Unless the case is actually about your immigration status, it’s just not relevant – and it could be prejudicial.

In fact, the prospect of being asked about immigration in an unrelated matter can easily frighten immigrants from seeking justice in court, even when they have valid claims or defenses – as both the Sheller Center and PA’s Interbranch Commission have reported.

Pennsylvania’s rules of evidence, however, haven’t addressed the problem until recently, when the PA Supreme Court Rules Committee proposed a new “comment” to the rules. The comment would say that a person’s immigration status is generally irrelevant and inadmissible.

In response, law professors from Drexel, Penn, Penn State, Pitt, Temple (including the Sheller Center), Villanova, and Widener submitted a letter strongly supporting the proposal – while also arguing that it does not go far enough.  Instead of addressing the issue through a non-binding comment, the letter states, the Committee should develop an actual rule – such as exists in California and Washington – that would provide clear, non-discretionary guidance to judges, lawyers, and parties.