From the time they first flirted at a party, Anne and Ludvin Franco were inseparable. It did not matter that Anne, a waitress, was Pennsylvania Dutch going back generations, while Ludvin, a cook, had grown up in the scrublands of eastern Guatemala.
It also did not matter to Anne or her open-armed family that Lulu, as they called him, was undocumented. At their wedding in 2013, the Americans and the Guatemalans danced the night away with Latin DJs imported from Queens.
On lawyers' advice, the Francos waited to start legalizing his status through their marriage until late 2016, after he had lived a productive, crime-free decade in the United States. They never anticipated that President Trump's promised immigration crackdown would be so swift, and so ruthless in their region.
By last spring, when Pennsylvania roads were starting to feel like a dragnet for immigrants without papers, Ludvin Franco had mostly stopped getting behind the wheel of a car. Often he relied on his wife to drive him, their twin toddlers buckled into the backseat. But the night his soccer team faced a rival in the semifinals of an indoor league, his wife was in the queasy first trimester of a second pregnancy. He headed out alone.
As Franco drove north on Route 309, a Hyundai pulled out of Bubba's Pot Belly Stove Restaurant and crossed into his lane. He swerved to avoid hitting it, he later said, but failed. Nobody was injured. Franco got a couple of tickets.
A few weeks later, as Franco was leaving for work at dawn, lights flashed. Men in police vests approached: federal agents from the ICE section that normally pursues violent criminals. They knew about the crash.
"Oh, God," Franco thought. "I'm done."
By October, when his wife gave birth to their baby girl at an Allentown hospital, Franco had already been deported. He was 3,200 miles away, forced to watch the delivery on the tiny screen of his cellphone from his mother's sweltering house in Zacapa, Guatemala.
Since Trump took office, deportation officers have been unshackled, as the White House describes it, from an Obama-era mandate to focus limited enforcement resources on deporting immigrants with serious criminal convictions. Across the country, they have been rounding up people like Franco who have sunk roots in this country, living for years, if not decades, with little fear of apprehension.
Nowhere, however, have federal agents more aggressively embraced their newfound freedom than in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware, an investigation by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer found.
In 2017, the Philadelphia office of ICE, with agents fanning out into communities across its three-state region, arrested more undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions than any of the 23 other ICE offices in the country. This is especially striking given that Pennsylvania's undocumented population ranks 16th in the country, with West Virginia's and Delaware's far behind that.
The reception has been decidedly mixed. In Pennsylvania, as across the country, many officials see undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers who burden the American economy, and they heartily applaud the way in which deportation officers here have worked hard to turn Trump's campaign pledge of mass deportations into a reality.
"Obviously those numbers reflect that ICE in Pennsylvania is doing their job; they're doing the work they're supposed to do," said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican known for a hard line against illegal immigration. "People here in Pennsylvania realize illegal immigration is a problem and it's not only a threat to our national security, but it's also a threat to families' jobs."
At the same time, with 11 million undocumented immigrants nationwide, the government has to choose whom to pursue. And as deportation officers increasingly venture outside jails and prisons — where the majority of their arrests still occur — they are making choices that can seem random, unfair, or sometimes unlawful, not only to immigrants but also to some officials inside the immigration system.
Many of the immigrants arrested in this region last year were simply hapless: They lived in buildings or worked in restaurants or traveled on rural roads that ICE was staking out. They were mushroom pickers in vans that got pulled over without cause; dishwashers in pizzerias that got raided without warrants; Latino men who loosely resembled other Latino men who were ostensibly ICE's intended targets.