Federal Immigration Enforcement Uptick Expands To More Pennsylvania Cities

Mar 13, 2017


In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, foreign nationals are arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles.
Credit Charles Reed / AP

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been increasingly present in multiple Central Pennsylvania cities in recent weeks.  The activity has been affecting entire communities, according to advocates and attorneys in the area.

"This is not just happening once per month, this is happening every single day," says Gloria Vázquez Merrick, director of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center in Harrisburg, where she says knows multiple families with one or both parents now detained.

Previously, ICE stressed it doesn't have the resources to do "mass deportations." The agency's field office in Philadelphia wouldn't confirm or deny taking anyone into custody, or provide information specific to activity, in the midstate. 

But officers also started making more frequent inquiries this week in Lebanon, according to Cesar Liriano, who heads  civic education organization the Hispanic Initiative and is vice-chair of both the Lebanon Democratic Party and Juntos de Lebanon.

"Sometimes there are rumors that [ICE is] here and sometimes it's not true, but in the last week they've been here [at least] three times, and that's significant," Liriano said Friday.

And one York-area restaurant reopened last week after a temporary shutdown following the arrest of four undocumented workers, the York Daily Record reported.

Similar reports surfaced previously in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and elsewhere, starting shortly after President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration and intensifying after the policy directive a couple weeks later that provided detail on implementing the order.

"Everyone's getting scooped up," says Mary Studzinski, executive director of York-based Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center. "In the past, one person might've been targeted by ICE to be brought into custody. That individual is in the company of other individuals, and they all ... can be brought into custody instead of just the one."

The shift seems to reflect the change in priorities as per Trump's executive order and policy directive, Studzinski says.

But it's not happening everywhere.

Nothing's different in Lancaster, LancasterOnline reported Friday.

And although the policy directives prompted people to stay home recently in Hazleton, where more than half of residents are Latino, officials there say they haven't seen a change in ICE enforcement.

In Harrisburg, foot traffic dropped by half at some businesses near the Latino Hispanic American Community Center in the city's Allison Hill neighborhood, according to Vázquez.

"Who wants to be sitting at a restaurant in the middle of Allison Hill and there are raids? [Maybe] they're not going to take you in because you're a citizen. But you don' t want to be exposed to that, or you don't want your children to see that," she says.

People also have turned recently to the center for help with transportation, translation and other needs previously met by a friend or a relative who's undocumented and is now in custody, she says.

And parents have been making sure guardianship papers are completed and notarized so that if they're taken into custody, even if temporarily, their children end up with a relative or trusted friend, advcoates and attorneys say.

Shamaine Daniels, an immigration lawyer who serves on Harrisburg City Council, says ICE has been  pulling over vans driving home workers from warehouses in the Carlisle area. One van's passengers included her clients, who are going through (but not finished with) the naturalization process.

They went on their way after supplying valid ID cards. But some passengers were taken into custody, Daniels says.

And one client has since found work closer to home so he doesn't have to drive and deal with getting stopped again, she says.

"Central Pennsylvania, by and large, is regarded as a pretty quiet and safe place for people," Daniels says. "I think this is just shocking to everyone."

Editor's note: This post was updated to provide more details about ICE's response.