One officer’s badge is associated with the arrest of at least 19 undocumented migrants, many of whom had no outstanding deportation orders.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Pennsylvania, claiming its state troopers are illegally targeting Latino motorists.
The complaint, reports PennLive.com, was filed in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg. According to the ACLU, state police profiled at least five Latino drivers, using their physical appearances as the basis for initiating traffic stops.
The organization cites five separate cases spanning four counties. Named as defendants are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, state police and six individual troopers. ProPublica notes that the ‘pattern of wrongful stops’ has been ongoing since early 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump took office.
In every instance, motorists were immediately questioned about their legal status in the United States. Each stop culminated with calls to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with federal agents arriving to take drivers into custody and begin deportation proceedings.
One motorist, alleges the lawsuit, was asked by a police officer whether a vehicle’s occupants were “fence jumpers.”
And two cases involve the same trooper, named by PennLive.com as Luke Macke.
The ACLU’s lawsuit comes on the tail of several high-profile discrimination cases. Pennsylvania State Police have been repeatedly accused of racial profiling in recent years, with illegal stops being often initiated against persons with supposedly ‘Latino’ appearances.
Due in large part to the great volume of complaints, state police even implemented policies intended to curb profiling. In January, Pennsylvania issued guidance prohibiting officers from ‘asking passengers in vehicles involved in traffic stops for identification for the sole purpose of determining if they are in the U.S. legally.’
The same policy, adds PennLive.com, bars state police from arresting anyone whose sole offense is being in the United States without proper documentation or authorization.
While the ACLU announced the suit, plaintiff Rebecca Castro gave an emotional recounting of her May 2018 detention by Trooper Luke Macke.
Macke, alleges Castro, stopped her and her now-husband, Carlos Amaya-Castellanos, along with another passenger.
“He was telling me there was human trafficking in the area,” Castro said. “I was like, okay […] I’m on my way to work. I was like, how am I human trafficking? And he just didn’t say nothing after that.”
But Macke did ask Castro and her passengers for their identification—then he called I.C.E.
When agents arrived, they took both passengers, including her current husband, into custody. Both were brought to detention facilities and had deportation orders brought against them.
Castro says the encounter has colored her perception of Pennsylvania and its police.
“Right now, I’m scared to go out driving just because of my skin color,” she said. “They think I’m from Mexico or another foreign country. And it’s harassment […] We’re not safe. And we’re supposed to feel safe with our troopers, our police officers.”
Pennsylvania state police, reports ProPublica, began compiling more “at-large” arrests of undocumented immigrants after the Trump administration took power. The five cases detailed in the ACLU’s lawsuit all involve officers like Macke, who opted to enforce federal immigration law without receiving an actual request from I.C.E.
Macke alone turned at least 19 migrants over to the government. None of them had criminal records, and not all were detained during routine traffic stops—some were out shopping, or standing outside during work-time smoke breaks.
The ACLU says there’s no ambiguity about the illegality of Macke and his colleagues’ actions.
“The law is clear,” the suit states. “It is illegal for police officers, including PSP troopers, to unliterally stop or detain a person simply because they suspect that a person may be subject to civil immigration enforcement.”