York's immigrants, attorneys eye Trump's promised crackdown

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)

Martha, an undocumented Colombian immigrant living in York City, said she's more afraid than ever to be in public after President Donald Trump on Monday revealed a massive crackdown on immigrants like herself beginning next week.

"There is more pressure, more fear," said Martha, who requested that her last name be withheld because of her immigration status. "I feel like I'm trapped. We are limited; we are going be in the street as little as we can."

Mark Morgan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, on Wednesday elaborated the agency will target immigrants with removal orders — including families. Days earlier, Trump tweeted ICE would begin going after "millions" of undocumented immigrants.

More:Decades after Golden Venture, York County is an immigration detention hub

More:Trump threatens to deport millions beginning next week

ICE officials have said, however, that the agency lacks the resources to remove all of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in a single move, The Hill reported on Tuesday.

Yet the agency is still dedicated to carrying out the president's immigration policies by rounding up immigrants, officials said.

Daniel Pell, a Springettsbury Township-based immigration attorney, also doubted the administration has the resources to pull off an operation on the scale first described by Trump. But that won't quell the fear among local immigrants.

"I suspect I'll have a lot of calls which will be centered around 'How can you help me? I'm afraid to go out of my house,"" Pell said. "It will definitely cause fear."

Since the administration is targeting immigrants that have already been ordered to be deported, Pell said, the only thing he could do is ask the immigration court for the board of appeals to reopen the cases. 

But reopening cases is a difficult task and is different on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Rosina Stambaugh, another Springettsbury Township-based immigration attorney, was unable to comment because of an already massive caseload, a representative at the office said.

As York is considered a "welcoming city," York City Police do not actively enforce immigration laws, nor do they hold suspected undocumented immigrants to later be detained by ICE, said Mayor Michael Helfrich.

If there were widespread ICE raids within city limits, officers would only go to the scene to ensure the safety of residents and those involved in what could potentially be a violent confrontation between immigrants and ICE agents.

"Our police have enough work to do, and it's important that we build trust in the community," Helfrich said. "I feel that we have found our proper role in providing the safest city possible with the limited number of resources we have."

ICE has not reached out to city officials ahead of next week's potential crackdown, Helfrich said. But still, he said his biggest fear is that such rhetoric can hinder the trust immigrants have in the local police.

Organizers from CASA, a regional immigrant-advocacy nonprofit with an office in York City, have said the "welcoming city" designation isn't enough. And with Trump's most recent threats, they said, it's more clear than ever it needs to become a "sanctuary city."

But York can't become a sanctuary city — a phrase that's more rhetorical than legal  —  because a key aspect of the designation is a refusal to detain immigrants after their release date, Helfrich asserted. Since York City doesn't manage a prison, it can't obtain that classification, he said.

While the city is doing what it can do shelter the immigrant population, at least one of the members of Congress representing the county is backing the Trump administration's efforts.

"I support the Trump Administration enforcing the laws that Congress has passed," said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, adding further border reform is needed to "ensure our nation does not continue to face mass illegal immigration."

Trump's immigration aspirations also have been questioned because of the lack of resources to house immigrants. Thousands of immigrants are already in camps along the southern border, where six children have died since September.

The York County Prison, home to one of more than 200 authorized ICE detainment centers in the U.S., is among the top three largest on the East Coast, with an 800-detainee capacity.

And as of Wednesday, there are 787 beds occupied as the county continues to write up a new contract with ICE, said county spokesman Mark Walters.

When asked whether the facility could handle an influx of detainees, Walters declined to comment because the county "won't discuss hypotheticals" and directed inquiries to ICE.

The agency didn't respond for comment by deadline.

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