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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a pattern of unlawful civil immigration enforcement by state police. The ten Latino plaintiffs claim to be victims of racial profiling; according to the complaint, they were each pulled over by state troopers who were improperly seeking to ascertain their immigration status. Now, the Middle District of Pennsylvania must decide whether the defendants overstepped their authority by initiating these stops without the requisite involvement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The plaintiffs allege a pattern of police misconduct in which Pennsylvania state troopers pull over Latino motorists based on their appearance in order to uncover supposed immigration violations. According to the plaintiffs, the state police did not do so at the request of ICE, nor did they receive the appropriate training, oversight, or authority to enforce federal immigration policy. Rather, the plaintiffs cite racial profiling as the reason for the improper stops.
After being pulled over and questioned, the drivers and passengers (including young children) were subject to prolonged detentions, some lasting several hours. As a result of the unlawful conduct, the plaintiffs claim to have suffered emotional trauma and distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and financial damages.
This is not the first time that racial profiling by Pennsylvania state police has been brought to public attention. In 2017, a trooper detained and interrogated at least 19 undocumented immigrants without a warrant before turning them over to ICE. This led the Governor to call for stronger uniform procedures regarding state police requests for federal agency assistance.
The suit was brought against Pennsylvania under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and against the individual state troopers under Section 1983 for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs argue that they have the right to be free from racial profiling – being unlawfully stopped or detained based on perceptions of their race, color, ethnicity, or national origin.
Plaintiffs cite Arizona v. U.S., a case in which the Supreme Court explained that it is generally not considered a crime for a removable alien to remain in the country. Therefore, stopping someone merely on the suspicion that they do not have lawful immigration status is not a proper basis for arrest. Also, the immigration removal process is within the purview of the federal, not state, government. State officers may only perform the functions of an immigration officer under specific circumstances which were not present in this case, according to the plaintiffs. Finally, the plaintiffs argue that allowing Pennsylvania state police to enforce civil immigration laws goes against public policy and undermines the public’s trust in law enforcement.
If you believe you were the victim of racial profiling or other form of police misconduct, contact a Philadelphia police brutality lawyer at Williams Cedar. Our compassionate attorneys are dedicated to obtaining justice for those whose constitutional rights were violated. For a free and confidential consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777. We represent clients in Pennsylvania, Cherry Hill, South Jersey, and nationwide from our offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey.