State police are rounding up illegal aliens on interstates in western Pennsylvania as part of homeland security efforts, but a professor said most of those being targeted are simply migrant workers, not terrorists.
During the last six months, troopers from the Mercer barracks have stopped almost 300 illegal aliens along interstates 80 and 79 as part of Stop Terrorism On Patrol. The program was created by the state Department of Homeland Security.
The illegal aliens are usually stopped for traffic violations, according to Sgt. Randy Anderson.
If they can't verify they're in the country legally, state police take them back to the barracks to have their immigration status and criminal history checked.
If the person hasn't committed any crimes, federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement decide what to do. Often, immigration agents release them with a notice to appear in court before an immigration judge, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Victor Romero, a Penn State University immigration law professor, said he doesn't believe state police should be enforcing immigration rules because that's a federal mandate.
Most of the people stopped are migrant workers, doing jobs that no one else wants, Romero said.
"They want to work. Their calculus is, 'I'm willing to risk my life because I think I can have a better life for myself and my family in the United States,'" Romero said. "We're really a schizophrenic nation when it comes to immigration."
He calls the practice profiling.
"Now we're using citizenship instead of race," he said. "A lot of people think it's OK to use any legitimate or constitutional tool in the law enforcement arsenal to protect us from terrorism."
That's not the case, according to Manny Van Pelt, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman.
"Racial profiling is illegal, period. There has to be probable cause," Van Pelt said.