PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic at Villanova University filed a federal lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today, seeking documents that indicate how the agency’s officers engage in civil immigration enforcement. The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic first sought the documents in August 2019 under the federal Freedom Of Information Act, but ICE twice denied their request.
The document, known as Form I-213, is completed by an ICE officer after arresting a person and includes a narrative that explains why the officer decided to make the arrest and the tactics the officer used in carrying out the arrest. Press reports have indicated that ICE’s Philadelphia field office is one of the most active offices in the country and that its officers sometimes engage in questionable activities, including trespassing, warrantless searches, and racial profiling.
“ICE doesn’t get to act in secret, and they don’t get to act outside the boundaries of the law,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But here, they are failing to follow the Freedom Of Information Act in order to avoid public scrutiny of their behavior. It’s time for court intervention.”
ICE’s Philadelphia field office is responsible for enforcing federal civil immigration law in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware. Data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University indicates that the office’s arrest numbers jumped dramatically after the inauguration of President Trump, from just over 3,000 arrests in 2016 to more than 4,000 in 2017. In the first six months of 2018 alone, ICE’s Philadelphia office arrested 2,995 people.
Reports also indicate that ICE’s Philadelphia field office has arrested people in places where the Department of Homeland Security has previously forbidden immigration enforcement, including at courthouses and schools. A 2018 report from the Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law stated that courthouse personnel in 13 counties cooperated with ICE arrests and that, in Philadelphia County, immigration agents had been seen making arrests inside family court and the Criminal Justice Center.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, ICE agents arrested a pregnant woman in February 2020 while she dropped off her child at school in South Philadelphia.
“ICE is a renegade agency that endangers the lives of immigrants and citizens,” said Muneeba Talukder, immigrants rights legal fellow for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “ICE has created an atmosphere of fear among immigrants, to the point that they worry about taking their kids to school or accessing the justice system. But they’re not secret police. The public has a right to know how they operate.”
In the lawsuit, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic state that ICE is in violation of the Freedom Of Information Act and are asking the federal court to compel the agency to produce the requested documents, waive the costs of producing them, and pay reasonable attorneys’ fees.
“We have documented numerous instances of ICE engaging in racial profiling and terrorizing Pennsylvania residents across the state,” said Caitlin Barry, director of the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. “Communities can’t hold ICE accountable if they don’t know how they carry out their activities.”
The lawsuit, ACLU of Pennsylvania v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs are the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic and are represented by Vanessa Stine, Muneeba Talukder, and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Caitlin Barry of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law; and John Grogan and David Nagdeman of the law firm Langer, Grogan, & Diver PC. A copy of the complaint is available at aclupa.org/ACLUPAvICE.