PA Cities Can't Do Much To Prevent Immigration Raids

Feb 16, 2017

Pennsylvania wasn’t among the states where large-scale immigration enforcement took place last week, but communities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have reported raids.  

On Wednesday morning, the City of Philadelphia tweeted on its official account, “City is working to gather info on how many people have been impacted by increased ICE enforcements,” and gave the number for a hotline created by New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith immigrant justice organization.

Philadelphia is a sanctuary city.

“The city supports our immigrant and refugee communities, and wanted to share with our residents a resource,” Deputy Communications Director Ajeenah Amir wrote in an email.

Amir said the city has not received reports of increased raids, and was aware of only one arrest on Tuesday night. New Sanctuary Movement director Peter Pedemonti said there have been six raids in the last two weeks.

“It has sent a wave of terror through the community. A lot of our immigrant members talk about being persecuted. And they don’t use that word lightly,” he said.

The New Sanctuary Movement created the hotline in May 2016, in response to increased raids against Central Americans during President Obama's presidency. They ramped up after President Trump’s election.

More than 1,000 people volunteered to respond to raids, said Pedemonti. When someone reports a raid, it triggers an alert to those supporters, some of whom will rush to the given address. Pedemonti says the goal is to arrive as an ICE raid is happening, and to peacefully disrupt it by holding an interfaith service.

“ICE is not supposed to conduct enforcement in sensitive locations like congregations, and so by holding an interfaith service it’s really claiming that space as holy ground, as sacred space and ICE therefore should not be doing a raid,” he said.

ICE officials said in a statement they do avoid raids in sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals and places of worship.

In Pittsburgh, Special Initiatives Manager Alexis Vargas said there have been two verified raids. Those two incidents concern Vargas, because it seems enforcement may be casting a wider net.

“The officers were looking for specific people and they picked up others,” she said.

Pittsburgh is working with community leaders and advocates to create an action plan for those affected by raids.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Grey says the job of police is to enforce the criminal code, not immigration law.

Cities are limited in response to immigration enforcement raids by ICE officials, said Philadelphia's Amir. “ICE doesn’t need our permission to operate here. Even with our sanctuary city status, that only means our law enforcement won’t assist them.”

ICE officials said the agency conducts regular targeted enforcements and would not speculate on future operations.