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Rumors of York immigration raids rampant

Liz Evans Scolforo
505-5429/@LizScolforoYD

Rampant rumors of federal immigration raids at York-area businesses might be just that — rumors.

But according to one local immigration attorney, there has been an uptick in  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests, based on what his clients are telling him.

"On Monday (Feb. 13) we heard of the raids in York County starting to happen," York attorney Stephen Converse said. "(ICE) is picking up people who have not appeared for hearings, and they're picking up people who may have had a final (deportation) order and were in deferred-action status."

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The executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, located in Springettsbury Township, confirmed her staff has heard from clients afraid ICE raids have increased here.

"We certainly are hearing a lot of panicked stories from people," said PIRC executive director Mary Studzinski, but she simply doesn't know if the rumors are true.

Mary Nuñez holds up a sign during a protest over recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the U.S., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Las Cruces, N.M. The Homeland Security Department said Monday that 680 people were arrested in roundups last week targeting immigrants living illegally in the United States. The figure is far below the totals of similar raids conducted under the Obama administration. 
(Josh Bachman/The Las Cruces Sun-News via AP)

The nonprofit PIRC is a legal-services organization that advocates for vulnerable immigrants, she said.

"We have not heard or seen anything that would substantiate the rumors we're hearing about community raids," Studzinski said. "But I could be wrong. It remains unclear what exactly has changed in the way ICE operates. It could just as easily fit in the existing pattern of the last eight years."

But based on what PIRC's staff has been hearing, Studzinski said she has an idea of how the rumors got started.

A theory: She said she thinks ICE agents, who go to a home or business to pick up an undocumented worker who they'd previously targeted, might now also be arresting anyone else at the location who doesn't have proper documentation.

In that past, that might not have happened, Studzinski said.

"But I think what's happening now is that everyone is getting scooped up," she said. "And it's causing a panic."

The federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that its recent raids and operations are routine.

Questions posed to a Philadelphia-based ICE spokesman by The York Dispatch were not answered individually. Rather, the spokesman emailed a statement that was to be attributed only to "ICE officials." It reads:

'Routine' enforcement: "ICE regularly conducts targeted enforcement operations, during which additional resources and personnel are dedicated to apprehending deportable foreign nationals. All enforcement activities are conducted with the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers exhibit every day. The focus of these targeted enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.

"ICE will not confirm an operation prior to its completion, nor will ICE speculate on future operational activities."

The rumors have shaken up local undocumented immigrants, their advocates say.

"The impact this has had on the people we're speaking to is devastating," Studzinski said, adding that those people are living with fear and uncertainty. "I understand the real fears that the immigrant community is experiencing right now."

The York Dispatch tried to find out whether the number of undocumented immigrants being held in York County Prison has increased in the last few weeks, but York County spokesman Mark Walters said all ICE-related questions must be posed to ICE.

Fear, apprehension: York attorney David Freedman does some pro bono, or charity, immigration work in addition to his immigration work on behalf of companies trying to bring highly skilled foreign workers here for jobs.

"I think there has been a great deal of fear in those (immigrant) communities as to what would happen under the Trump administration," he said. "People have been apprehensive."

And recent ICE arrests in the news have only fueled that apprehension, although he said he's personally seen nothing to suggest there's been an increase in enforcement activities in York County.

Freedman cited ICE's Feb. 10 arrest in Seattle of Daniel Ramirez Medina, who is facing deportation. Ramirez Medina had been part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created under the Obama Administration, but  federal officials claim he is being deported because he told them he has ties to a gang, according to The Associated Press.

Protesters block traffic during a protest over recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the U.S., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Las Cruces, N.M. The Homeland Security Department said Monday that 680 people were arrested in roundups last week targeting immigrants living illegally in the United States. The figure is far below the totals of similar raids conducted under the Obama administration.
(Josh Bachman/The Las Cruces Sun-News via AP)

The DACA program — referred to as the “Dreamers” program by supporters and derided as “illegal amnesty” by critics — has protected about 750,000 immigrants since its inception in 2012. It allows young people who were brought into the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits if they meet certain criteria, according to The Associated Press.

'Dreamer' clients: Freedman said he represents some immigrants in the DACA program.

"What I'm going to tell them is, 'They're going to try to pressure you into making some sort of admission that you're engaged in something that would violate your DACA status,' because that's the allegation in the Ramirez Medina case," he said. "My advice to DACA clients is to not make any statements to ICE except the acknowledgment that you are on DACA status."

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Converse said he's very concerned for those in DACA status.

"These are young people who are (or were) going to school. Some of them have graduated close to the top of their class. They're trying to live the American dream, and that's why they're called dreamers," he said. "The president has said he would do the right thing for the kids in the DACA program ... but then, he says a lot of things. I don't know who to trust or believe."

'Not practical': Converse said the legal process of obtaining work visas "is simply not practical" for people from certain countries, including Mexico, where the wait can be more than 20 years for some applicants.

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"It's the lack of legal alternatives that (drives) illegal immigration," Converse said. "In the last eight years, there was a priority system established (for deportations) by the administration focusing on people with criminal records, people who were recent arrivals ... and people who were multiple border-violators. I think (ICE agents) were plenty busy with those."

Some immigrant advocates dubbed President Barack Obama the "Deporter in Chief" because more deportations occurred during his administration than under previous administrations.

More than 2 million people were deported during Obama's tenure, including a record of more than 409,000 people in 2012, according to AP.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.