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Rogue agency ICE needs more accountability and oversight, not more agents free to act with impunity
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is regarded by many law enforcement professionals as a rogue and unaccountable police agency. New revelations underscore this reputation and reveal a disturbing pattern of political retaliation, willful falsehoods, and the selective and inaccurate release of data designed to publicly scapegoat and shame immigrants and the communities that welcome them.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
If DHS Secretary General Kelly cannot control rogue agents that rely on political retaliation and outright lies, why is Congress considering funding increases to hire more of them? This will only make a bad situation worse. Rather than writing a blank check to expand ICE, Congress needs to exercise oversight and demand changes.
Among the recent revelations:
News broke yesterday that the Austin, TX-area immigration raids conducted by ICE in January were retaliation for the local sheriff’s decision to limit cooperation with certain types of federal immigration enforcement requests. As the Austin American-Statesman reports:
Federal agents privately alerted two magistrate judges in late January that they would be targeting the Austin area for a major operation and that the sting was retribution for a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that dramatically limited her cooperation with them, according to one of the judges. The revelation — made Monday in open court by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin — conflicts with what Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told local leaders after the sweep, when ICE characterized the operation as routine and said the Austin area was not being targeted.
For all the talk of how newly “unshackled” ICE agents are prioritizing so-called “bad hombres,” ICE is going after whoever they please, however they please. And when deemed necessary, agents are relying on retaliation and outright lies to justify their indiscriminate enforcement. For example, take Daniel Ramirez Medina, the DACA recipient detained in Washington state. Picked up as a “collateral” during an operation targeting his father, the public protest at his arrest and detention was followed by the ICE agents fabricating a gang affiliation charge and falsifying Daniel’s statement to the contrary. He is still in detention. Or Daniela Vargas, the Mississippi DREAMer who was targeted and detained by ICE as she left a press conference where she spoke up on behalf of her family. After a huge community reaction to her arrest and detention, she was finally released.
The Trump Administration and ICE yesterday released the first installment of their weekly report on immigrant crimes, seeking to spread fear and to intimidate immigrant-friendly communities. But local law enforcement voices and independent experts are crying foul, highlighting that the ICE report is filled with inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading information. As a New York Times story titled, “Law Enforcement Agencies Bristle at U.S. Report on Immigration Detention,” captures:
[R]ather than provide a complete tally, it contained misleading information that only prompted confusion and defiance from law enforcement officials from the jurisdictions in question … On Thursday, New York’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal, said the report not only misrepresented New York’s law, but facts about cities’ and counties’ policies. ‘This ignores the fact that federal courts have repeatedly held that immigration detainers are optional requests and cannot be made mandatory under the Constitution,’ Ms. Agarwal said … Since Mr. Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin compiling a list of local law enforcement agencies that did not honor detainers, some localities have said publishing the data is simply a way to embarrass them into complying with ICE requests. ‘This is a shaming list, a scarlet letter that the federal government is going to put on jurisdictions around the country,” said Dennis Herrera, San Francisco’s city attorney.’
Meanwhile, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, long a valuable source of detailed and non-partisan immigration statistics, yesterday criticized ICE’s selective and misleading data release:
Today Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued its first weekly report on detainers that it said had been refused by non-federal law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, the information ICE released is very limited and selective. At the same time ICE released its report, the agency has started withholding other more comprehensive detainer-by-detainer information that ICE previously released to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. ICE does not claim the withheld information is exempt from disclosure, it simply claims past releases were discretionary and it is no longer willing to make many of these details available to the public.
Disturbingly, while ICE has yet to stem its continued misconduct, it is set to ramp up hiring and potentially lower its hiring standards in the process. A recent New York Times story titled, “Is ICE’s Help-Wanted Sign a Welcome Mat for Rogue Applicants, Too?” reviews the high levels of misconduct by ICE agents, and details on how the Trump push for mass deportation force could cause hiring standards to slip even further. The article notes:
President Trump has vowed a hiring surge of 10,000 immigration and customs officers to accelerate the deportation of unauthorized immigrants. But the aggressive pace he has laid out risks adding to the ranks of rogue agents who have been charged with abusing immigrants. Over the past decade, dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and contract guards responsible for the detention and removal of undocumented immigrants have been arrested and charged with beating people, smuggling drugs into detention centers, having sex with detainees and accepting bribes to delay or stop deportations, agency documents and court records show.