If you’re an undocumented immigrant or your immigration status is in question, don’t count on Pennsylvania to be a safe haven. A ProPublica report in 2018 called it “open season” on immigrants in our state. According to a report last year from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, there are more arrests by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents here per capita than anywhere else in the country.
That may surprise a lot of people who typically think of Florida, Texas, California and other border states as the hotbeds for ICE activity. Pennsylvania, however, is home to about 141,000 undocumented immigrants. About 32.7 of every thousand have already been arrested.
If you think that you’re probably safe as long as you avoid breaking the law and stay out of police custody, think again. Some 25.6 out of every 1,000 ICE arrests in our state are considered “community” arrests. That means that ICE agents apprehended someone who was heading into an appointment with the immigration court or other officials, doing their grocery shopping, taking their kids to school or while trying to earn a living. (By comparison, the second-highest number of community arrests in the nation is in Michigan at only 11.6 arrests per thousand.)
Immigrants rights advocates say that the numbers are particularly distressing given the state’s low population of undocumented immigrants. “The arrest numbers are so high because of the aggressive tactics used here by ICE,” says one.
It’s wise not to underestimate ICE activity in any area — even if the undocumented immigrant population is much lower than in other areas. It’s also smart to understand your potential defenses to deportation if you are detained.