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JFCS in the News: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

‘They’re human beings’: Peduto, community leaders react to ICE’s nationwide raid

by Lauren Lee, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 11, 2019

After the New York Times reported that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is to start nationwide raids on Sunday, community leaders and immigration organizations in Pittsburgh expressed their concerns and anger.

According to The New York Times, ICE officials are targeting over 2,000 illegal immigrants over the span of a few days in at least 10 major cities.

Families who are arrested together may be held in one of three family detention centers located only in Texas and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania hosts one family detention center known as Berks Family Residential Center in Berks County.

ICE officials in Philadelphia, which oversees the Pittsburgh region, stated in a written statement that they will not offer specific details related to enforcement operations due to “law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel.”

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On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Bill Peduto said he hasn’t been made aware of any additional ICE enforcement in Pittsburgh.

“Usually when something like that does occur and there is a warning, I’m usually notified that day,” Mr. Peduto said. “So unless something just happened this morning that I’m unaware of, it would be highly unlikely that there is something credible.”

Jamie Englert, the director of immigration and legal services at the Jewish Family and Community Services, said although she is concerned about the increase in ICE enforcement, she does not believe it will largely affect the local region. JFCS works to settle refugees.

In the event a family member does get detained by ICE officials, Ms. Englert said JFCS has “deportation preparedness packets” that contain information on what a family can do moving forward — from information on how to pay for rent to provisions on guardianship of children if both parents are detained.

Ms. Englert said she also informs the community on the rights people have when encountering ICE officials.

“Generally, if ICE knocks on your door, in order for you to be required to open the door, they must have a signed warrant for your arrest that must be signed by an immigration judge not just by the ICE officer,” Ms. Englert said.

Ms. Englert said ICE officials also have tactics prompting an arrest.

“Sometimes they pretend to be local police, sometimes they pretend to have a warrant that’s not a warrant,” Ms. Englert said. “Because it is an intimidating situation, even if they know their rights they can be coerced and tricked into situations that are undesirable.”
Rev. Randall Bush, the senior pastor at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, said he is “appalled” at the nationwide raids and that they are “totally counterproductive” and “far more invasive and dehumanizing” than detaining people at the individual level.

For four years, the church has provided a field office for Casa San Jose — a community resource center for the Latino community — where churchgoers can seek services and legal advice from members.

Rev. Bush said mass raids affect more lives than the ones directly being detained.

“These tactics by ICE not only disrupt people that are working currently, but it makes everyone scared,” Rev. Bush said. “Parents don’t let their children go out, parents can’t get groceries, can’t get medicine. They’re scared to go to a bus stop.”

Leslie Aizenman, the director of Refugee and Immigrant Services at JFCS, said the raids also stir fear among refugees who are afraid they will be asked to leave even though they are here legally.

Laura Perkins, the emergency response organizer at Casa San Jose, said the mass raids are a strategy to instill fear to prevent more immigrants from coming into the country.

Ms. Perkins said many people have reached out to Casa San Jose asking what they can do to express their frustration and help the community in response to the reports on ICE detention centers and the ICE raids. Ms. Perkins said Casa San Jose and six other local organizations will co-host a “Lights for Liberty vigil” on Friday as part of a nationwide event organized to protest U.S. detention centers and urge government officials to close the facilities.

During the vigil, organizations such as Casa San Jose, 1Hood Media, All for All and Pittsburgh United will call on Gov. Tom Wolf to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) to close the Berks Family Residential Center, according to a press release.

Kim Dinh, the spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, said the vigil is not in direct response to the recent reports of a mass raid, however it is relevant to the cause.

The event, which will take place at Schenley Plaza from 7:30 to 9 p.m., falls on the birthday of Antwon Rose ll, a black teenager who died after an East Pittsburgh police officer shot him in 2018. The event will offer a moment of silence in memory of his life.

“There are obvious parallels between the situation of those detained in ICE detention centers and the millions of Black Americans incarcerated in this country’s prison system,” 1Hood Media CEO Jasiri X stated in the press release.

Ashley Murray contributed to this story.