The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has launched a billboard campaign in Pennsylvania targeting undocumented immigrants that have previously been arrested or convicted of crimes in the U.S., but were later “released into the community instead of being transferred to ICE custody.”
In a statement published on Friday, ICE said it was launching the campaign to “educate the public about the dangers of non-cooperation policies,” which prevent law enforcement bodies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
While some law enforcement departments have vowed not to work with ICE, some have been prevented from doing so under local or state sanctuary policies preventing officers from honoring ICE’s immigration detainers.
“ICE lodges immigration detainers on individuals who have been arrested on local criminal charges and who are suspected of being removable, so that ICE can take custody of that person when he or she is released from local custody,” ICE explained.
“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders onto the streets, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect public safety and carry out its mission,” the agency claimed.
The new billboard campaign, ICE said, will see billboards posted across Pennsylvania featuring “at-large immigration violators who may pose a public safety threat”.
A number of billboard examples shared by ICE feature individuals that have been arrested or convicted for a number of offenses, including assault, robbery and burglary.
Each billboard shows the face of the person ICE is looking for, as well as the name of the police department that released them.
The billboard campaign immediately sparked backlash, with immigration advocates condemning the initiative and questioning how much was being spent on the effort.
“The money they are spending on these billboards might be better spent establishing a court system that could review ICE arrest requests for probable cause, as required by the Constitution, but perhaps actual law enforcement is not their real goal anyway,” Michael Kagan, the director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, wrote in a tweet.
A request for information on how much money is being spent on the campaign has been submitted to ICE.
In a statement accompanying ICE’s release on the campaign, Tony Pham, the agency’s senior official performing the duties of the director, said: “Too often sanctuary policies limiting cooperation with ICE result in significant public safety concerns.”
“ICE will continue to enforce immigration laws set forth by Congress through the efforts of the men and women of ICE to remove criminal aliens and making our communities safer,” he said.