Immigration officers sometimes engage in racial profiling, conduct warrantless searches and commit other abuses, but their conduct rarely is scrutinized in overwhelmed immigration courts, which focus on whether arrested individuals should be removed from the U.S.
A media investigation of immigration cases found that federal agents and police officers allegedly engaged in racial profiling, conducted warrantless searches, detained people without probable cause, fabricated evidence, and, in one instance, solicited a bribe, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer and ProPublica in the third of a series. In none of these cases have agents or officers been put on the stand to respond to the allegations. The conduct of arresting officers is rarely scrutinized in overwhelmed immigration courts, which focus on whether arrested individuals should be removed from the U.S. Deportation proceedings are civil, giving immigrants fewer rights than criminal defendants to challenge apprehensions.
Noncitizens have a considerable range of protections under the Constitution if they are arrested for a crime like robbery or assault, they, like citizens, are protected against unlawful searches and seizures, and against self-incrimination. Immigrants facing removal, unlike criminal suspects, do not have the right to a government-provided lawyer. Without a lawyer — two-thirds of immigration detainees didn’t have one last year — they are highly unlikely to contest the validity of their arrests. They are also ten times less likely to win their cases. If they get deported, any allegations of law enforcement abuses disappear along with them. Over the last year, the aggressive immigration crackdown in Pennsylvania has heartened those who see undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers even if they have no criminal records. Advocates for immigrants say that many of the arrests themselves have been unlawful and would not hold up in a regular court of law. “ICE has run amok,’’ said Craig Shagin, a Harrisburg lawyer. “And nobody is reining them in.”