Trump-era rise in immigration arrests felt across Philly region

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Migrant workers at the Kaolin mushroom farm in Avondale walk from their housing unit to the farm, which ICE agents raided last month.

Estela Hernandez doesn’t need a government news release to tell her that arrests of undocumented immigrants are dramatically up in the first three months of 2017 compared with the same quarter last year.

A native of Mexico who came undocumented to the United States 12 years ago, Hernandez started a family here and runs an office-cleaning company with 25 workers. Since President Trump’s executive order widening agents’ discretion to arrest anyone “known or suspected” of being in the country illegally, she has worried that a simple traffic stop on her way home could lead to her deportation.  

“We immigrants already know detention and arrests have risen,” said Hernandez, a member of the immigrant activist group New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.  “We see it in our neighborhoods, we see it outside the courts and at probation check-ins,” where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have used stake-outs to make arrests.

In the first 100 days of the Trump administration, ICE officials said this week, agents arrested 41,318 people, compared with 30,028 over roughly the same period in 2016 – an increase of 38 percent. Three out of four of the people arrested had a criminal conviction in addition to the civil violation of being in the country without papers, ICE said. The criminal convictions range from using a false Social Security card to rape or murder.

"These statistics reflect President Trump's commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board," Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, told reporters.    

The Philadelphia field office of ICE has jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia. Philadelphia-specific numbers were not immediately available. But ICE confirmed last month that the Philadelphia field office had made 356 "noncriminal arrests," which is six times as many as during the same period in 2016.

New Sanctuary executive director Peter Pedemonti said there has been a tangible uptick in local arrests. Since January, he said, two of his group’s members were picked up at probation appointments. The group has confirmed eight house raids and heard reports of 10 other arrests. His members have also documented a dozen arrests of immigrants outside the Criminal Justice Center and Traffic Court.

Through a New Sanctuary program that accompanies immigrants to court, 26 people are fighting deportations.

A sweep last month at a Chester County mushroom farm -- the first in decades -- highlighted the anxiety across the region. Philadelphia is believed to be home to about 50,000 undocumented immigrants.

Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, an immigrant support group with chapters in Philadelphia and Norristown, said the Obama administration set in place “a deportation machine” that expelled a record two million immigrants.

“Then he had handed that machine” to Trump, she said, and his administration is on pace to break the record. Almiron contends ICE highlights the most egregious cases to in a bid to criminalize all undocumented immigrants.

“What we are seeing right now is a well-tuned machine that is being set loose on our community,” she said. “They go into a house, fingerprint everybody, and take everybody.”