Philadelphia may be a "sanctuary city," but the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office here has become the spear point for President Trump's overly zealous policies that are fracturing families and sending refugees back to threatening situations they tried to escape.
A joint ProPublica-Inquirer investigation shows Philadelphia ICE, which has jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia, has arrested more undocumented immigrants with no criminal convictions than any of the other 23 ICE offices in the country.
You can draw a line between that level of aggressiveness and Mayor Kenney's refusal to let ICE use Philadelphia police like one of its patrol units. The city successfully sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year after he tried to withhold a Justice Department grant as punishment. But losing that skirmish didn't stop the Trump administration from finding other ways to force its will.
The ICE office found cooperative public officials in rural areas outside Philadelphia where the anti-immigrant sentiment is stronger. ICE also sweetened the pot for local law enforcement to work with it by stooping to bribery, such as paying $19.6 million to York County in fiscal 2017 to house immigrant detainees in its prison.
ICE ratcheted up its police-state tactics after Trump issued an executive order in January making criminal prosecution of immigration offenses a "high priority." That led to more "collateral" arrests of people that ICE wasn't even looking for, the ProPublica-Inquirer report said. ICE also expanded the definition of "criminal" for deportation purposes to include people who got a traffic ticket or were arrested for loitering.
The Department of Homeland Security, in explaining Trump's April 4 order for National Guard units to assist ICE on the southern border, said that before 2013 only 1 percent of "arriving aliens" claimed a "credible fear" in seeking asylum; today it's 10 percent. It said that before 2011 more than 90 percent of "arriving aliens" were single adult males; today 40 percent are families and children.
Rather than supporting Trump's claim that there is an immigration "crisis," however, those numbers say something completely different — that more families and children are trying to find safety in the United States because they are living in fear in their homelands.
They are fleeing destitute nations like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela, where there is no work and gangs terrorize communities. And, they aren't just coming to the United States; asylum applications in Mexico jumped 678 percent between 2013 and 2016.
Trump's ICE has flooded the immigration courts. More than 11,643 cases were pending in Pennsylvania in March, a 62 percent increase over the end of fiscal 2016. A similarly embarrassing backlog nationally led Sessions to set a quota of 700 adjudicated cases a year for immigration judges. That's not justice; that's an assembly line.
Many detainees have lived and worked in America for years. Other than lacking documentation, they have committed no crimes here and are unlikely to. Still, Trump seeks to demonize them. That won't change until Congress, urged by the public, tells the president to stop arresting people who deserve to stay and give them a path to legal residency or citizenship.