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Keith Burkett | CC BY-SA 2.0

Philadelphia’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office has been arresting more undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions than any other place in the country, according to an investigation by Pro Publica and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 2017, though the undocumented population in Pennsylvania ranked 16th in the nation, the ICE in Philadelphia was one of the nation’s most forceful agencies in apprehending undocumented immigrants, according to the investigation.

Reporters analyzed unpublished data from ICE, finding that 64 percent of immigrants arrested in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware didn’t have criminal convictions. The national figure, on the other hand, is 38 percent.  

The investigation also found that cases in Pennsylvania’s immigration courts have increased dramatically. Until last month, 11,643 cases were pending, showing a 62 percent increase compared to 2016.

Many immigrants in Philadelphia last year were arrested randomly. According to the article, those apprehended “lived in buildings or worked in restaurants or traveled on rural roads that ICE was staking 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 ostensibly ICE’s intended targets.” 

Currently, the United States has 11.3 million undocumented immigrants. The public reaction to the crackdown has been mixed. 

Some politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, say they see immigrants as people who break the law and take away jobs from middle-class families. 

“Obviously those numbers reflect that ICE in Pennsylvania is doing their job; they’re doing the work they’re supposed to do,” Barletta told the Inquirer. “People here in Pennsylvania realize illegal immigration is a problem and it’s not only a threat to our national security, but it’s also a threat to families’ jobs.” 

While some take a hard line against undocumented immigrants, others consider the crackdown as cruel and inhumane. 

“Why take into custody an individual who has been here for 15 to 20 years, has U.S. children, and one arrest for harassment, public intoxication or some such piddling infraction?’’ Walter A. Durling, a retired immigration judge from York, told the Inquirer. “Or aliens with no arrest record but who were arrested by ICE looking for someone else?’’

Sarah Saldaña, a former director of ICE, said in the report that “high arrest numbers are crucial to agency’s success with Congress.” 

“The increasing number of convicted criminals removed from our country is the result of change in ICE’s strategic focus,” said Saldaña in her written testimony for a House Committee on the Judiciary hearing in 2015. In 2014, ICE’s “removal numbers illustrate the agency’s continued commitment to [the] removal of individuals apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States.”