From [HERE] Early one winter morning last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were scouting the last-known address of a fugitive they had labeled Target #147 when they happened upon Isabel Karina Ruiz-Roque.
A turkey farmworker for over a decade, Ruiz-Roque had kept her head down and her record clean, never once encountering los ICEs, as she called them. Then two federal agents rapped on her car window and flashed a photo of the immigration fugitive they believed to be her York County neighbor. Ruiz-Roque, 34, said she did not know the woman, and they told her not to worry, that she was not their target.
Two weeks later, during an enforcement operation that prized big arrest numbers, the agents returned and demanded she let them into her Hanover apartment house to search for #147. When she refused, they arrested her instead, and drove her, handcuffed, to a Rite Aid parking lot to scan her fingerprints, she said.
There, after finding the record of an old apprehension at the border, they made a stunning proposition, according to a sworn statement she filed in immigration court: They would ignore their discovery and let her go if she paid them off.
They suggested $2,000 to $3,000, according to her statement. She told them she did not have that kind of money. And so they transported her to the York County Prison, the primary detention center for immigrants in Pennsylvania, to face deportation.
Unlike most immigration detainees, Ruiz-Roque was able, through her sister, to secure a lawyer to fight her removal. He would try to air her bribery allegation in court. But the secretive immigration justice system is not set up for public accountability.
An investigation by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer found numerous cases in which ICE agents and police officers allegedly engaged in racial profiling, conducted warrantless searches, detained people without probable cause, fabricated evidence, and, in this one extreme instance, solicited a bribe.
But in none of these cases have agents or officers been put on the stand to respond to the allegations.
The conduct of arresting officers is rarely scrutinized in the overwhelmed immigration courts, which focus squarely on whether arrested individuals should be removed from the United States. While deportation proceedings are civil, they afford immigrants fewer rights than criminal defendants to challenge their apprehensions.
Noncitizens have a considerable range of protections under the Constitution; if arrested for a crime like robbery or assault, they, like citizens, are protected against unlawful searches and seizures, and against self-incrimination.
Yet immigrants facing removal, unlike criminal suspects, do not have the right to a government-provided lawyer. And without a lawyer — two-thirds of immigration detainees didn’t have one last year — they are highly unlikely to contest the validity of their arrests. They are also 10 times less likely to win their cases. And if they get deported, any allegations of law enforcement abuses disappear along with them.
In a statement, ICE officials said their enforcement activities are conducted “with integrity and professionalism” and “in compliance with federal law and agency policy.”
“ICE holds all of its personnel to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct,” the officials said.
Over the last year, the aggressive immigration crackdown in Pennsylvania has heartened those who see undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers even if they have no criminal records. But advocates for immigrants say that many of the arrests themselves have been unlawful and would not hold up in a regular court of law.
“ICE has run amok,” said Craig Shagin, a Harrisburg lawyer. “And nobody is reining them in.”
At a time when every undocumented immigrant is a potential target and few are awarded lenience, the inequities in the immigration justice system are exacerbated.
Even if undocumented immigrants have lawyers, they face challenges unique to the immigration courts, where the backlog reached an all-time high of 684,583 cases by March 1. The courts operate with what their own spokeswoman calls “an outdated paper filing system,” and provide no public access to charging documents, evidence, or routine judicial decisions. Most hearings are open, but some immigration courts, like the one in York, sit inside prisons or detention centers, with courtrooms behind two layers of locked and guarded doors.
Unlike police officers in criminal court, ICE officers rarely appear in immigration court to explain or defend an arrest. Their first names are often omitted from ICE’s equivalent of an arrest form, and sometimes, lawyers say, their full names are blacked out. Occasionally, ICE arrest forms, which are supposed to provide the government’s evidence of “alienage,” are never produced at all.
Immigrants detained at York who want to fight their arrests on constitutional grounds face considerable disincentives. Immigration judges there generally will not consider bond requests until such challenges are decided, according to former Judge Walter A. Durling, who retired in December. In other words, if they want to assert that their rights were violated, they must do so from behind bars, which can take many months.
As Arrests Soar, Caseloads Swell
With few exceptions, the number of backlogged cases in immigration courts in Pennsylvania has increased steadily year after year. And since 2016, it has climbed sharply. [MORE]