A 2019 lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania alleged that Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) had a practice of ethnically profiling, stopping, and detaining Latinos to check their immigration “papers.” It is not a crime to be present in the United States without immigration status, which means it is illegal under clearly established federal law when police stop and detain people to enforce civil immigration law.
The complaint names only 10 Latino plaintiffs, but we learned from our months-long investigation that the six incidents described in the lawsuit were part of a larger pattern and practice of PSP troopers acting as enforcers of the complex system of federal civil immigration laws. Police lack the authority to enforce civil immigration and they get no training in how to do it.
Thankfully, three years after filing suit, we have reached a settlement, which not only compensates our clients for the harrowing experiences, but adopts changes in PSP policy intended to fix the problem moving forward. Under the settlement, PSP will pay our clients $865,000. That includes compensation for them and pays our attorneys’ fees.
As importantly, the policy changes should help prevent such ethnic profiling and unlawful civil immigration enforcement in the future. The new PSP policy makes it clear that:
- Enforcement of civil immigration law is not PSP’s responsibility; their job is law enforcement. When law enforcers mix business with immigration enforcement, people become afraid to call police for help or assist with crime investigation, both of which undermine public safety. That’s why troopers should not question people about their immigration status.
- Prolonging stops for the purposes of civil immigration enforcement is prohibited.
- Running immigration checks when verifying a driver’s or passenger’s identification is no longer permitted.
- An immigration detainer – a request from ICE asking that the person be detained until ICE can take the person into custody – does not provide a basis for a detention or arrest on its own. Detainers, which are not signed by a judge or based on probable cause, cannot legally justify extending a traffic stop.
PSP also agreed to implement more robust reporting and data-collection requirements, which will allow us to ensure they are in fact following the new policy.
We appreciate PSP’s willingness to settle this lawsuit, and to adopt measures designed to change the harmful practices our clients experienced. We at the ACLU of Pennsylvania join our clients in the hope that the new policy will be effective and that no other families will have to experience the fear and anguish they went through.