False reports of ICE checkpoints circulating in Pennsylvania cause real panic

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 In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, foreign nationals are arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, foreign nationals are arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

Amid expanded federal immigration enforcement, false accounts of mass checkpoints are making the rounds.

Reports of a checkpoint at the intersection of Route 1 and 202 in southern Delaware County have been recurring, zombie-like, on Facebook in the last several weeks, unsubstantiated.

“Where would they even stop anyone? It’s a four-way [intersection] with tons of traffic, and there isn’t even a point to pull anyone over,” said Alisa Jones, director of multi-service immigration center La Comunidad Hispana in Kennett Square. She said the claim has surfaced several times, most recently this Tuesday.

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Social media provides fertile ground for all kinds of unverified claims to take root — but false immigration information is also by other means.

“One week, we had three calls of ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] checkpoints,” said Peter Pedemonti, director of the New Sanctuary Movement, and immigrant rights organization in Philadelphia. The group runs a hotline to report enforcement activity.

“We were very concerned,” he said.

In each case, staff rushed to the alleged enforcement locations and found no evidence of a checkpoint.

That’s because – for all intents and purposes, ICE isn’t doing them. In a statement, a local ICE official said reports of checkpoints and sweeps “are false, dangerous and irresponsible.”

“These reports create mass panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support,” he continued. These boilerplate statements have been shared with media around the country, to try to quell concerns over similar eruptions of false reports.

Under President Donald Trump, immigration enforcement by ICE and Border Protection agents has widened to prioritize deportation of anyone in the country illegally. Deportation orders are being carried out in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, but the nuts and bolts of how most of those arrests are happening has not changed drastically.

According to immigration attorneys and advocates, agents generally approach a discrete location – like a house or a business – and bring a warrant for a specific person. Other people in the country illegally may be approached and identified during that activity may or may not be arrested if their status is discovered. An ICE spokesman said anyone who is approached by someone claiming to be a federal immigration officer should ask to see a badge and credentials.

How the rumors of mass enforcement get started isn’t clear. In some cases, concerned residents appear to be calling in false alarms when they see any law enforcement activity, according to Pedemonti.

Even false reports can cause real problems for both immigrants and law enforcement.

Concerns about random enforcement drives unauthorized immigrants underground.

“I think in some cases people are not carrying on their day to day activities, which may include going to work, it may include sending kids to schools,” said Jones. “That does have a negative impact.”

At stake is also cooperation between residents and local law enforcement.

“We strive to create that trust and positive relationships,” with residents, said Corporal Adam Reed, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police. “So any time there’s negative information that comes out like this, it doesn’t do us any good.”

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