Since President Trump took office, deportation officers have been unshackled, as the White House describes it, from an Obama-era mandate to focus limited enforcement resources on deporting immigrants with serious criminal convictions. Agents have been rounding up people who have sunk roots in this country, living for years, if not decades, with little fear of apprehension. Nowhere have federal agents more aggressively embraced their newfound freedom than in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware, report the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News and ProPublica. The Philadelphia office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) arrests more immigrants without criminal convictions than any other ICE region: 64 percent of its “at-large arrests” last year. Nationally, 38 percent of those arrested had no criminal convictions.
The reception has been mixed. In Pennsylvania, many officials see undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers who burden the economy, and they applaud the way in which deportation officers here have worked to turn Trump’s campaign pledge of mass deportations into a reality. At the same time, with 11 million undocumented immigrants, the government must choose whom to pursue. As deportation officers venture outside jails and prisons — where most arrests still occur — they make choices that can seem random, unfair, or sometimes unlawful. Many of the immigrants arrested in Pennsylvania last year were hapless: They lived in buildings or worked in restaurants or traveled on rural roads that ICE staked out. They were mushroom pickers in vans that got pulled over without cause; dishwashers in pizzerias that got raided without warrants; Latino men who loosely resembled other Latino men who were ICE’s intended targets. “At-large” arrests like theirs are the ones that terrify the immigrant community, break up families, disrupt workplaces, and drive people further into the shadows.