Immigrants, their advocates wary of recent ICE actions in Pittsburgh
February 14, 2017 11:30 AM
Sister Janice Vanderneck, executive director of Casa San Jose, a Brookline-based advocacy group for Hispanics
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Some of the four undocumented immigrants from Mexico arrested in Pittsburgh this month appear to have been swept up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in search of other people — an approach that people who deal with the issue believe has changed under the Trump administration.
An ICE official said Tuesday that there’s been no uptick in enforcement actions, sweeps or raids in the Pittsburgh area. But immigration attorneys noted that the agency appears to be enforcing an existing part of the law that some ICE officers had previously disregarded at their discretion.
Based on conversations with a local ICE official, Kristen Schneck, an immigration attorney with Schneck & Harley Immigration Law Group in Dormont, said it’s her understanding that “if they encounter anyone incidentally without documentation, they have to do their duty and enforce the laws and pick them up,” even if that person wasn't the initial target.
“In the past, a lot of times they wouldn't incidentally arrest and bring those people in, and now they are,” said Ms. Schneck, who is representing at least one of the men taken into custody recently.
The ICE official would not comment on Ms. Schneck’s contention.
Raids that could lead to deportation appear to be touching off tensions between the agency and lawmakers. A meeting that had been scheduled between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the ICE chief in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday was canceled, according to media reports, and at least 650 immigrants have been arrested recently across the country, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday.
The four men arrested in Beechview on Feb. 1 and in Mount Oliver Feb. 8 were charged with being present in the United States without authorization. Sister Janice Vanderneck, executive director of Casa San Jose, a Brookline-based advocacy group for Hispanics, said in each case, officers were looking for other people, neither of whom was at either location.
In one case, ICE officers detained three men as they were leaving to go to work, she said. And last week, agents detained a man, also as he was leaving for work. Three Casa San Jose representatives took turns counseling that man’s family by phone with the officers still outside. One of the Casa San Jose workers drove to the house and waited in her vehicle, giving the family updates.
A woman living at that home, who agreed to an interview Tuesday on the condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety, said through a Casa San Jose translator that her brother-in-law’s employer called that day when he didn’t show up for work. When she looked outside, his car was still there, and about 7:40 a.m., she noticed SUVs in front of and behind her house. She lives at the home with her husband, brother-in-law and the couple’s two children, who attend Pittsburgh Public Schools and are U.S. citizens.
“I’m very afraid to leave, to go outside,” said the woman, who also is an undocumented immigrant but has been in the country 11 years, her husband 15. “We don’t have that sense of security anymore.”
Last fall, ICE officers went to one of these same homes looking for someone and, coming up empty-handed, ran the fingerprints of another person, said Ashley Lively, associate attorney in charge of deportation at JBM Legal, a Downtown law firm. Although that other person was undocumented, “nothing happened because he doesn’t have a [criminal] record,” she said.
But at least one of the four men arrested this month had no previous criminal record and was arrested anyway, Ms. Lively said. One had a 15-year-old DUI conviction in another state from when he was a teenager. Scooping them up in the pursuit of someone else is “a different approach than what I’ve seen historically in Pittsburgh.”
Sister Janice said two of the men were released here on bail, and the other two were taken to the Cambria County Jail. When the number of those detained in ICE custody is “high,” ICE uses that jail as a overflow facility if no bed space available is in York, the multi-state regional detention center, Ms. Schneck said. In York, detainees can go before a judge to seek bond, if eligible, or await deportation.
Moira Kaleida, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board member from District 6, said five Pittsburgh Beechwood PreK-5 students in all whose relatives were swept up by the recent arrests.
Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the district has asked principals to monitor the attendance of their English-language learners. She said principals also received resources, developed by the American Federation of Teachers, related to ICE raids and what school officials can do. The information also was shared with counselors and social workers, she said.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944. Staff writer Chris Potter contributed.
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