Local immigrants: New PSP policy is welcome, but the fight's not over

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents gather before serving a employment audit notice at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Los Angeles. Immigration officials have sharply increased audits of companies to verify that their employees are authorized to work in the country, signaling the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration is reaching deeper into the workplace to create a "culture of compliance" among employers who rely on immigrant labor. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

For undocumented immigrants in York County — and other areas throughout the country — the simple concept of leaving one's home can be terrifying.

"Every day when we leave the house, we say 'God bless you and I hope you come back' because we just don't know," said Josefina, an undocumented immigrant who left Mexico for York City 16 years ago and requested anonymity because of her status.

But immigrants like Josefina just got a sprinkle of relief, as the Pennsylvania State Police implemented a new policy late last month to tackle racial profiling and the detainment of undocumented immigrants.

The policy comes after criticism that the agency at times had been working too closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to target immigrants accused of being in the country illegally. The policy has been in the works for roughly two years.

"We feel the regulation strikes the appropriate balance between our members' role as law enforcement officers and public servants to all residents and visitors of Pennsylvania," said PSP spokesman Ryan Tarkowski.

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Under the new regulations, troopers are barred from asking individuals if they're undocumented immigrants and from detaining them if they're in the U.S. illegally — although troopers still can call ICE to report them.

Troopers must document any interaction with immigrants.

Immigration enforcement — and how local and state agencies interact with ICE — is at the core of a national political debate between conservative immigration hardliners and progressives. 

But CASA, a regional immigrant advocacy organization with an office in York City that was heavily involved in talks to form the new regulations, is saying such policies are a step in the right direction — even adding they don't go far enough.

"It's a good first step, but everything's going to come down to the implementation," said Laila Fisher, a lead organizer with York's CASA branch. "We cannot stop right here. This is not a victory. We need to make sure officers are embracing these guidelines."

As long as police still have the power to contact ICE agents, immigrants will continue to feel at least somewhat unsafe in their communities, she added.

CASA cites increasing fear among immigrants and an uptick in cases transferred to ICE in 2017 for its push to weaken the bond between PSP and ICE. The matter was further publicized following coverage from ProPublica and The Philadelphia Inquirer last year.

The journalism duo reported on racial profiling and arrests by PSP officers, including a story about U.S.-born Latinos whom a trooper without a warrant had questioned about being in the country illegally and who were detained until ICE officers arrived.

Laila Fisher, lead organizer of CASA, speaks as more than 100 people gather for the Families Belong Together Rally in Continental Square in York City, Saturday, June 30, 2018. The peaceful protest is one of hundreds of events nationwide in response to children being separated from migrant and refugee parents caught crossing the boarder between the U.S. and Mexico, due to government policy. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In the case of Josefina, she came to the country in search of better opportunities for her family. While opportunities are more plentiful, she has witnessed several families fall victim to deportation, she said — and the fear has taken a toll on her own family.

Josefina said the new policy is somewhat reassuring, but that doesn't mean she or her husband can leave the house without concerns for their safety. 

"I think (the new policy) is good, but the department needs to make sure the officers know about this," Josefina said. "Now I feel more reassured to drive, but we need to continue to fight for immigration reform. It's not over."

CASA will be informing the local immigrant community about the new policy in coming meetings to ensure individuals know about their rights, Fisher said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.