Appeals Court Frees Deportees Over Racial-Profiling Claims

August 7, 2019 Updated: August 8, 2019

A federal appeals court has set aside deportation orders for two Guatemalan nationals because the Pennsylvania state trooper who pulled over the van they were riding in for speeding allegedly inferred that the two men were present in the country unlawfully based on their appearance.

The July 31 ruling came from a three-judge panel of the Philadelphia-based U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Two of the judges, Thomas Ambro and Midge Rendell, were appointed by then-President Bill Clinton. Judge Rendell is the wife of Ed Rendell, who was previously governor of Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2011, and who, from 1999 to 2001, headed the Democratic National Committee. The third judge, Anthony Joseph Scirica, was appointed by then-President Ronald Reagan.

The petitioners, Erick Geovany Yoc-Us and Luis Calel-Espantzay, were found in a van that a Pennsylvania state trooper pulled over for speeding. Both admitted they were illegal aliens from Guatemala who have lived and worked in New York since 2008. Several other illegals were also found in the van by the trooper.

The government asked an immigration judge for a deportation order against the two men, who, in turn, moved to exclude any evidence of their illegal alien status that was obtained as a result of the stop, arguing it had been brought to light through a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The men claimed the state trooper stopped them solely because of their Hispanic appearance and should have released the vehicle after completing the traffic investigation and issuing a citation.

The judge denied their request to terminate the proceedings, finding that claims of racial bias were unsubstantiated and “refuted by evidence which shows that their vehicle was stopped for excessive speed.” The judge ordered the men deported to Guatemala.

The Board of Immigration Appeals refused to set aside the removal order.

In an opinion written by Judge Rendell, the appeals court agreed with the two men that their constitutional rights were violated when the trooper “unreasonably extended the stop to investigate their immigration status.”

The court implied the trooper made improper assumptions about the two men in the van “because of the passengers’ Hispanic appearance.”

The trooper’s demand for documentation, “prior to any interaction with the passengers in the rear of the van, shows an assumption on his part that the Petitioners and other passengers were not United States citizens, a conclusion he could have only come to based on their appearance.”

The officer “lacked the authority to enforce civil immigration law” because “Pennsylvania has no agreement with the federal government that would allow state agents to perform the functions of immigration officials.”

Rendell is correct that Pennsylvania isn’t a participant in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) Program, which ICE states “enhances the safety and security of communities by creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States.”

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act “authorizes the Director of ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, that permit designated officers to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions. Agreements under section 287(g) require the local law enforcement officers to receive appropriate training and to function under the supervision of ICE officers.”

Because the Keystone State isn’t part of the program, the two foreign nationals “made a prima facie showing that the extension of the stop to investigate their status was unreasonable and in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” Rendell wrote. The panel sent the case back to the lower court to be reconsidered.

Immigration watchdogs criticized the appeals court ruling.

The 3rd Circuit panel “not only created a Fourth Amendment right to privacy against detecting one’s illegal immigration status–contrary to years of case law–but also ruled that illegal aliens can’t be deported based on obtaining such information!” critic Daniel Horowitz wrote at Conservative Review.

Chris Hajec, director of litigation for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, described the court ruling as “a deeply absurd decision.”

“Illegal aliens do not have the right to be in this country,” Hajec told Horowitz. “So they do not have the right that citizens have to travel around it freely. No police officer is violating the Fourth Amendment by detaining an illegal alien for a reasonable time.”

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