Since the day that President Barack Obama handed the keys of his administration's deportation machine to Donald Trump, immigrants’ rights advocates and civil libertarians knew that an already desperate situation was about to get much worse for immigrants and refugees living in the United States.
Almost four years later, thousands of children have been separated from their parents and forced into cages, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely targets people for detention or deportation at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, and houses of worship, and the administration continues to undermine immigration policy and decimate so-called “legal” immigration.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of challenging these dangerous and inhumane policies since day one. From litigation to stop Pennsylvania State Police troopers from racially profiling and inquiring about immigration status to the ACLU-PA legal team being ever-ready to support individuals ensnared by ICE, even at 3am on a Sunday morning, the work seems to increase in urgency everyday.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know the full scope of how ICE operates in Pennsylvania. While there have been reports of ICE “skirt[ing] the law” in their enforcement operations - from detaining undocumented people for small offenses like parking tickets to more sinister practices like warrantless searches and racial profiling - ICE not only refuses to make justification for such practices available to the public, but the agency actively works to hide that information.
That’s why, in August of last year, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic filed a Freedom of Information Act request regarding ICE’s enforcement tactics in Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware and West Virginia, which fall under the jurisdiction of the same ICE regional office in Philadelphia. The documents we seek will reveal why and how ICE goes about enforcement and who among local and state agencies are cooperating with them.
But ICE refuses to follow the law, twice turning down our request. So on Wednesday, ACLU-PA and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic filed a federal lawsuit against ICE, asking the court to force ICE to turn over the documents in question.
Even as the Freedom of Information Act request has been pending, ICE continues its aggressive enforcement in Pennsylvania. In February, ICE arrested a pregnant Philadelphia woman as she dropped her daughter off at school. What’s more, ICE continues to interfere in court proceedings, detaining people who have not been convicted of a crime and practicing racial profiling — all in violation of the agenciy’s own rules.
The Trump Administration has caused immeasurable heartache and fear in immigrant and refugee communities across the country. Like much of the administration’s other destructive policies, the damage will take years to undo. In order to stop these immoral and inhumane practices by ICE, there must first be a full accounting of the agency’s enforcement practices and a full accounting of who among local and state law enforcement and other agencies have been cooperating with ICE.
That’s why this Freedom of Information Act is so important. After all, the fight against injustice only happens when we can assess and attack the problem head on.
Muneeba Talukder is the Immigrants’ Rights Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.