The past four years have been a horrifying look into what can happen when we elect leaders who have nothing but animus towards people who are part of our families, communities, and this country. The horrors we saw these last four years were merely a weaponization of an immigration system that has been designed to penalize and exclude Black and Brown people.  From the so-called “Muslim ban” to turning away asylum seekers to separating families and locking children in cages, the pain and inhumanity inflicted upon so many represented the worst of America. 

This last year, we helped clients seek accountability from local police departments who engage in racial profiling and collude with ICE, fought to save lives and free medically vulnerable people from civil immigration detention, and stopped the deportation of a teenager ICE tried to remove in the middle of the night. 

While there were rampant issues with civil immigration detention before the pandemic, with the spread of COVID-19, immigration detention threatened to be a death sentence for people who are medically vulnerable. This is why, since March, we’ve fought to free medically vulnerable people from ICE detention in Pennsylvania, where it is impossible to practice physical distancing or even have access to basic protective gear like masks. To date, we’ve filed two federal civil rights lawsuits against ICE, one on March 24 that freed 13 medically vulnerable people, and one in early April that freed 21 medically vulnerable people. 

Our work in these cases continues, as we fight to free more medically vulnerable people: we have three clients who have yet to be released. Our fight also continues because the federal government has fought tooth and nail to overturn the rulings ordering our clients’ release and subject our clients to re-detention at facilities that have all experienced (or are still experiencing) COVID-19 outbreaks.  

In May, we filed yet another federal lawsuit against ICE that sought more transparency in how ICE officers document and justify the grounds on which they detain people. With a record of racial profiling and a history of terrozing people across the commonwealth, the lawsuit demanded that ICE stop operating as secret police.

Finally, as mentioned above, an unexpected Saturday night call to legal director Vic Walczak to prevent the detention and deportation of a teenager from Guatemala who was in Pittsburgh without any family or friends is a tale of legal twists and turns worthy of short fiction. Vic’s recounting of that night is worth a read as much as it is a sad reflection on ICE’s sheer viciousness over the past four years.

Even if some of ICE’s terrifying tactics ease in the coming months, we cannot go back to the status quo before Trump. That is why we will continue to fight for the rights of immigrants, including ending the ICE detention machine.