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Pittsburgh region’s immigration differs from rest of nation

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement
On Monday, August 4, 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at Harrisburg International Airport prepare to fly to Louisiana a group of undocumented workers apprehended in Pennsylvania. They are transported from Louisiana by bus or another flight to their home nations. Deportation flights leave several times a week from Harrisburg and York, but most of the detained individuals are from eastern and central Pennsylvania, not the Pittsburgh area.
PTRimmigration02081714jpg
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
On Monday, August 4, 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at Harrisburg International Airport prepare to fly to Louisiana a group of undocumented workers apprehended in Pennsylvania. They are transported from Louisiana by bus or another flight to their home nations. Deportation flights leave several times a week from Harrisburg and York, but most of the detained individuals are from eastern and central Pennsylvania, not the Pittsburgh area.

So there he stood in federal district court in Pittsburgh, awaiting sentencing by Senior U.S. Judge Terrence F. McVerry.

Convicted on July 9 of a fel­­ony charge of re-entering the United States after being deported in 1997, the illegal immigrant had spent most of those years in Maryland, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh using three aliases, a fake Social Security number and an unlawfully obtained Pennsylvania driver's license he later destroyed, according to court documents.

Before the judge was a stack of letters indicating that he's now a hard-working crew leader in the construction trade who long ago renounced the petty crimes of his youth and became a strong neighborhood voice against drug abuse. A small business owner who employed Americans, a decent husband and stepfather for his Polish Hill family, all of whom are Americans, the defendant has a serious heart condition that requires care here.

Raymond Paul Frances, 66, a diminutive, almost elfin, English stonemason, apologized “to the court and my family for all the trouble I've caused” since his January arrest by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Calling Frances an “upstanding member of our community for many years,” McVerry joked that “based on the letters, I want to hire you.”

The judge sentenced him to time served: one day in jail plus the 1½ years he spent on house arrest. The sentence, however, hid the real punishment. Barring a successful appeal to the Third Circuit, Frances awaits mandatory deportation.

Despite all the national attention on illegal immigrants from Central America and Mexico, a Tribune-Review analysis of immigration records found Frances is more representative of Western Pennsylvania's immigrant community — the legal and illegal — than many people here realize.

When experts talk about deportations and the long arm of American law, they really are describing three primary ways illegal immigrants can be grabbed: Border or airport arrival interdiction, civil deportation orders from immigration court judges, and repatriations from federal criminal courts that mostly involve defendants such as Frances, who commit a felony when they re-enter the United States after getting booted.

The Department of Homeland Security last year recorded 253,093 removals along U.S. borders, mostly Mexicans who are handed back to representatives of their government.

Misdemeanors matter

Most illegal immigrants caught in ICE's Western Pennsylvania territory — about a third of the state running from Erie south to West Virginia — are deported following civil hearings in a small federal courtroom in Pittsburgh's South Side. Connected by video feed, immigration judges sitting in Philadelphia repatriate people who either live here illegally or are legally here but lose their right to remain by committing crimes.

Civil judges have expelled 846 people across the region since October 2007, or an average of 10 people per month.

Though that may not seem like many, it's five times the rate of deportations caused in criminal court trials. Since late 2011, 87 of 89 people charged in Western Pennsylvania with illegal re-entry were deported. Frances and a fugitive released by mistake are the exceptions.

Interestingly, most of those deported from Western Pennsylvania through civil action — 77 percent — allegedly committed nonimmigration crimes, according to federal reports the Trib obtained. Only 8 percent of those deported in federal criminal court cases were indicted for anything but re-entering the country illegally.

“And if you look at the deportations in the civil system, many of them are based on crimes that were nonviolent. They were misdemeanors. Some occurred many years ago,” said Jonathan Simon, associate dean of the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of America's leading criminologists.

Frances got caught because his wife, an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, confided to a social worker at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland that the cardiac patient was not really named “Anthony Judd.” Tipped off, Homeland Security agents determined that Frances was living in the United States unlawfully and began criminal proceedings.

A diverse bunch

Civil deportations in Western Pennsylvania differ from those in much of the rest of the nation in that they reflect a diverse population of immigrants and far fewer Latinos. Although about 94 percent of U.S. removals this year will involve unlawful immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, that's true for only two of every five undocumented immigrants removed by immigration court judges here over the past seven years.

The rest involved citizens from 105 other nations. Nearly one in 10 deported from Western Pennsylvania came from Europe or Canada, far more than the national average. The backlog of 329 deportation cases here involves people from 70 nations.

Western Pennsylvania has few deportations involving Mexicans and Central Americans because they have not come to live here in large numbers, said Barbara Murock, manager of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Immigrants and Internationals Initiative.

“During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, as waves of immigrants came into our country, especially from Mexico, our steel mills were closing. There was a net outflow of population from Pittsburgh as people went elsewhere to find jobs,” Murock said.

When the region recovered, Pittsburgh and surrounding communities attracted far smaller numbers of immigrants compared with the rest of the country. Those who arrived tended to be documented and educated, mirroring professionals born in the United States who settled here, often after studying at nearby universities. They were joined by more than 6,000 war refugees brought in by the State Department in recent years, with only a few from Latin America, Murock added.

The Allegheny County municipalities with the largest percentages of foreign-born residents are Scott, Marshall, Whitehall, Upper St. Clair, Franklin Park, Monroeville, Glen Osborne and Sewickley Heights, according to the Census Bureau. For every Latino who has settled in Allegheny and neighboring counties, five immigrants were born in Asia or in Europe — such as Frances.

Christopher Briem, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research, said, “The flow of immigrants here, while a trickle compared to much of the rest of the country, reflects the flow of educated people to growing industries like the medical field … and they require a well-educated workforce.”

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or [email protected].

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