BREAKING: Philadelphia ICE Office Arrests Illegal Aliens

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 23, 2018

Having served as an immigration judge in the York, Pa., Immigration Court, I still keep up on the news in that city. But what constitutes "news" these days is somewhat surprising: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that is charged with arresting aliens unlawfully present in the United States or who are otherwise removable is, well, arresting aliens unlawfully present in the United States.

According to, in 2014, the City of York had 43,865 residents. The median household income was $31,379, well below the Pennsylvania state average of $56,907. However, housing is relatively inexpensive, the people are friendly, and history abounds. (It claims to be the first capital of the United States.)

It is also the home of the York County Prison, which, in addition to holding local pretrial detainees, also houses a significant number of federal immigration detainees under contract from ICE. That is why the 11th largest city in Pennsylvania is also home to its own immigration court.

A number of York City and County residents work in the prison, as do residents of neighboring counties. All of this is to explain that immigration is one of the businesses in York County, and one with which even those not affiliated with the prison, ICE, or the court are familiar.

Which is why it was surprising to read in the local paper, the York Daily Record, an article with the headline: "Undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania aggressively targeted by Philadelphia ICE: Report". It began:

Statistics show that the Philadelphia ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) office, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia, is easily the most aggressive in the country. A recent report co-published by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer went into incredible depths, examining just how and why the Philly ICE group "arrested more undocumented immigrants without criminal conviction than any of the 23 other ICE offices in the country."

It continued:

Dat[a] obtained and analyzed by reporters working on this story showed 64 percent of immigrants arrested in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia had no criminal convictions. That compares to 38 percent in the country as a whole.

I have written about this before, so I won't belabor are the point. One of the major missions of ICE is to arrest, detain, and remove aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States. It appears, from the cited paragraph above, that the Philadelphia ICE office is doing just that. The article suggests, however, that in doing so, Philadelphia ICE is breaking some sort of unwritten rule.

Included in that article is the following: "[T]he Philadelphia ICE office's seemingly strong focus away from immigrants with a history of criminal convictions is troubling for some, even those with a reputation as being relatively tough on immigration." In this context, it would appear that being "tough on immigration" means being in favor of the enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States. By this standard, Congress and the executive branch are "tough on immigration", which is only fair, because they are the ones who wrote the rules that ICE is enforcing.

Credit (or blame) has been cast on the Trump administration for casting light on the issue of "chain migration". As my colleague, Jessica Vaughan, explained that concept in last fall:

Every year, about one million new legal immigrants, or lawful permanent residents, are admitted to the United States. More than 10.6 million immigrants were admitted from 2007 through 2016. According to DHS statistics, in recent years about half of these immigrants have been what are sometimes called “initiating immigrants”, or the first in their family to settle permanently in the United States, perhaps after attending college, finding employment, as refugees from persecution, or receiving amnesty after illegal settlement. The other half are not path-breakers, but are joining family members who arrived earlier, in the phenomenon known as chain migration.

Insufficient credit (or blame) has been placed on the Obama administration for an act of policy legerdemain so skillful that it largely went unnoticed: Making the very enforcement of the immigration laws that the president had sworn to uphold something unseemly, and then claiming credit for doing less of it.

I was the staff director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's National Security Subcommittee in March 2015, when then-ICE Director Sarah Saldana appeared before the committee. Included in her written testimony was the following:

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, ICE conducted 315,943 removals and returns, 213,719 of which were apprehended while, or shortly after, illegally entering the United States and 102,224 of which were apprehended in the interior of the United States. Eighty-five percent of individuals removed or returned from the interior were of individuals previously convicted of a criminal offense, reflecting a significant increase in the removal of individuals with convictions, from sixty-seven percent in FY 2011 and thirty-eight percent in FY 2008. This is no accident. The increasing number of convicted criminals removed from our country is the result of change in ICE’s strategic focus, which revised policies and newer initiatives help us achieve.

"What the director was stating was that more than 67 percent of all ICE removals and returns in FY 2014 were of aliens apprehended along the border..."

Let's unpack those numbers for a moment. What the director was stating was that more than 67 percent of all ICE removals and returns in FY 2014 were of aliens apprehended along the border, aliens that traditionally had not been counted in ICE's removal numbers. Only about 32 percent of all ICE removal and returns that year (102,224) were of aliens from the interior of the country, less than one percent of the estimated 11,000,000 aliens living unlawfully in the United States.

Of that paltry number, only approximately 15,334 were aliens without a criminal record, but who were otherwise removable. That means that just more than one-tenth of one percent of all non-criminal illegal aliens present in the United States were removed and returned by ICE in FY 2014. Most exceptionally, the director considered this a point of pride. She stated:

This is no accident. The increasing number of convicted criminals removed from our country is the result of change in ICE’s strategic focus, which revised policies and newer initiatives help us achieve.

Imagine any other law-enforcement agency proudly proclaiming that it had an apprehension rate of less than one percent, or that 99.9 percent of the vast majority of the offenders that it was tasked with apprehending got away.

Even more incredibly, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan explained in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2015:

While Obama administration officials claim that their policy changes have improved public safety by allowing ICE to focus its limited resources on the removal of criminal aliens, in fact the number of criminal aliens deported from the interior has also declined sharply, to less than half the level of the peak in 2010. The number of criminal deportations from the interior was just over 63,000 in 2015, down from about 150,000 in 2010 and 2011.

At the time the Director Saldana was trumpeting her agency's performance, its performance was on the decline even by the key measure (criminal deportations) that it claimed to be prioritizing.

So, what underhanded tricks is the Philadelphia ICE office employing to catch so many otherwise law-abiding illegal aliens? According to the York Daily Record:

Among the reasons the reporters found for the statistical anomaly from the Philadelphia office are routine "collateral" arrests, which means arresting somebody else encountered in pursuit of a different person, and expanding the definition of "criminal alien" to include immigrants with traffic citations or minor infractions.

Such "collateral" arrests are the natural consequence of sanctuary policies, like those in the City of Philadelphia. When ICE officers were not allowed to arrest criminal aliens in local jails, they go to where those aliens are living, often with other aliens unlawfully present in the United States. If those other aliens are questioned about their status, and determined to be removable, it is incumbent upon ICE officers to arrest those other aliens as well.

Moreover, while it is not entirely clear what "traffic citations or minor infractions" are the source of other arrests, but it doesn't really matter. Again, if ICE officers encounter (or were made aware of the presence of) aliens unlawfully present in the United States who are otherwise removable, ICE has a duty to arrest them, detain them, and place them into removal proceedings. The alternative is to suggest that we pay those officers to do a job to we don't actually want done.

The United States of America has many problems. Too much immigration enforcement is not one of them.