After federal immigration agents took 12 people into custody at a mushroom farm in southern Chester County April 26, immigrants’ rights advocates decried the arrests as unlawful.
But detention is just the beginning of a journey through enforcement proceedings for most of those now behind bars.
Lawyers say none of those arrested has a criminal record — but having prior contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement can act like an express ticket out of the country.
“If they’ve been targeted by deportation in the past — and forcibly removed — the government can try to use those prior deportation orders against them,” said Villanova University law professor Caitlin Barry, who runs the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic.
Barry interviewed all 12 of those arrested and sought pro bono representation for them. Three have prior orders of removal and may not stand a good chance of staying in the U.S.
Attorneys are fighting for the other nine to be allowed to remain, but the lawyers don’t want to say where those arrested would end up if they lose because sharing their countries of origin could affect their cases.
During immigration court hearings this week, two of the detainees had very different outcomes, according to their attorney, Lindsey Sweet.
“One judge decided that a client could be released on bond,” she said, so he could wait out the results of the case with his family. A different judge ruled that Sweet’s other client would have to wait in York County Prison, pending attempts to have the removal order dropped.
Rather than wait it out, that client has decided to leave the country.
“Being subjected to detention, away from your family, with no contact with your family, for weeks and weeks at a time is psychologically trying,” she said.
For those who want to fight, Sweet said, attorneys hope to have the removals suppressed — saying ICE agents were trespassing when they entered their workplace. That means information that officers discovered about the workers’ status during the arrests may be off the table.
An ICE representative declined to comment for this story, and the farm owners have not responded to interview requests. Friends of Farmworkers, which represents some of the other people taken, also declined to comment for this story.
In a previous statement, an ICE official called the arrests “targeted.” Owner Michael Pia told NBC10 a few days after the arrests that he did not know whether ICE had a warrant, an account later muddied by a statement by an ICE spokesman to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“From an advocate’s perspective, we’re creating a police state,” said Barry of arrests made without a warrant on private property where permission to enter was ambiguous.
That type of enforcement has happened before — just not since President George W. Bush, she said.