HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Ten people filed an amended lawsuit Thursday against the state and Pennsylvania state troopers over allegations that officers unlawfully detained them because they are Latino, in order to investigate their immigration status.
The lawsuit addresses how the plaintiffs were treated during five traffic stops in 2017 and 2018.
They argue state troopers have acted as enforcers of federal civil immigration laws without training, authority or oversight.
The plaintiffs “include a family traveling to see loved ones, farmworkers finishing a long day of work, workers traveling interstate to complete jobs, and a car accident victim,” according to the filing by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and other lawyers. “The defendant troopers’ illegal conduct has caused great harm not only to the plaintiffs themselves, but also to their families, friends and employers.”
A state police spokesman, Trooper Brent Miller, said Thursday the agency had not been served with the lawsuit and declined comment.
The lawsuit seeks money damages. Three people originally sued the state and one trooper in April, but have amended the lawsuit to add seven plaintiffs and six more state trooper defendants.
In February, state police announced a new policy to govern troopers’ interaction with foreign nationals, after criticism that officers had been acting as an informal arm of immigration enforcement.
That policy prevents state troopers from “summarily” questioning passengers in a vehicle stopped for suspicion of violating traffic rules about their immigration status. They also were ordered not to detain people just for the purpose of questioning them about their own immigration status or anyone else’s.
ACLU lawyer Vic Walczak said the legal team has been using the state’s open records law to get information about how state and local police have been working with federal immigration authorities. He said there were questions about whether the new state police policy has made a difference.
“Based on the records we’ve gotten this year, we’re certainly not sure how effective it is,” Walczak said.
Miller said state police have trained troopers and put in place reporting mechanisms to see if the policy is being followed.
Other lawsuits are likely against municipal police officers on similar grounds, Walczak said.
A report issued this week by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s law school said some county jail and probation offices regularly help the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement locate and arrest immigrants.
But police collaboration with federal immigration agents, the report said, is “less systematic and mostly ad hoc” and a local police department’s actions regarding immigrants “is often subject to an individual officer’s discretion.”