Hanover immigrant's run-in with ICE highlights lack of accountability
As the federal government places a larger emphasis on addressing illegal immigration, Pennsylvania has become an anomaly in terms of arresting a high percentage of undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions.
ProPublica and The Philadelphia Inquirer have been co-publishing a series, "No Sanctuary," which digs into the numbers and stories of immigrants caught up in the rising trend.
York County Prison, the site of the state's primary Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, and the immigration court therein have been featured prominently in the series.
The most recent article in the series, "Who Polices the Immigration Police?," highlights an immigrant living in Hanover who had been working at turkey farm for more than a decade.
Read the full series: No Sanctuary
The article states that Isabel Karina Ruiz-Roque, 34, originally encountered ICE agents last year when they showed her a photo of an immigration fugitive they believed to be her neighbor.
Two weeks later, the agents returned, and when Ruiz-Roque refused to let them into her apartment to search for the fugitive, they arrested her and drove her to get fingerprinted.
She would later allege that the agents offered to let her go if she paid them $2,000 to $3,000 but was transported to York County Prison when she told them she didn't have that much money.
Ruiz-Roque's Philadelphia-based attorney, Thomas Griffin, verified the article's account of his client's experience in a phone interview with The York Dispatch.
Ruiz-Roque could not be reached.
Griffin said this was his first client who had alleged ICE agents solicited a bribe, but many of his clients have been detained in manners he would consider overreach by officials.
The ProPublica/Philadelphia Inquirer investigation details several other stories of ICE agents and police officers allegedly engaging in racial profiling, warrantless searches, fabricating evidence and detaining people without probable cause.
Agents and officers are never put on the stand to respond to those allegations, though, because of an overwhelmed immigration court system.
Griffin said he'd love to take one of these cases of overreach up to the Supreme Court, but he doesn't have the time.
"My goal as an attorney is ... once I get a case knocked out, that's it," he said. "By the time I finish a case, my phone is already ringing."
As a way of addressing the alleged overreach, Griffin created a local network of immigration attorneys he calls "The Suppressors" to share statistics and stories about questionable arrests.
The network creation comes on the heels of a similar effort he started a few years earlier called "Bond Fighters" to gather statistics on a troubling trend he was seeing of immigration judges ordering exorbitant bond amounts.
Griffin said he learned of a judge in York County ordering a bond as high as $18,000, and in most cases he's seen, those bonds must be paid in full up front.
Ruiz-Roque spent 63 days in York County Prison before being granted bond — immigration judges often refuse bond requests for detainees fighting their arrests on a constitutional basis, according to the article — and the government eventually dropped its deportation case against her.
Griffin noted that some immigration judges he's dealt with are fair and reasonable but pointed out that they're under a lot of pressure because, unlike other court systems, they're not politically independent.
Immigration courts are under the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Justice, meaning the judges answer to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has publicly made eliminating illegal immigration a priority.
York Immigration Court judges denied immigrants asylum in 81.2 percent of cases from 2012 to 2017, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which notes that the national denial rate during that period was 52.8 percent.
The county has benefited from the uptick in ICE detainees, as county statistics show that the average number of detainees held at York County Prison has increased from 608 and 645 in March 2014 and March 2015 to 741 and 767 in March 2017 and March 2018.
ICE has paid the county more than $2.4 million for boarding and rental space at the prison from January through March, according to the prison board's latest report.
For many of these detainees, the circumstances they face prove to be too much, and they agree to deportation without battling in court, Griffin said.
CASA, an immigrant advocacy group based out of Maryland, has noticed another issue that has resulted from the federal crackdown.
Laila Martin, CASA's lead organizer in Pennsylvania, said immigrants are becoming less likely to report crimes where they are the victims because they are worried police will turn them over to ICE.
CASA will soon open up an office in York City, and Martin said one of their primary goals is to provide immigrants will legal consultation so everyone understands their rights.
— Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.