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ICE Retaliation and Intimidation: Are We Seeing the Rise of a Political Police Force?

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New stories in CNN and The Daily Beast offer more chilling details about how the Trump Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are engaged in a pattern of political retaliation and intimidation against communities that welcome immigrants.

Last week, a U.S. federal judge confirmed that Austin, TX-area immigration raids conducted by ICE in January were retaliation for the local sheriff’s decision to limit cooperation with certain methods of federal immigration enforcement. Now, CNN reports that the retaliation against Travis County, TX is part of a larger strategy from ICE that includes retaliatory raids, as well as attempts to pressure and publicly scapegoat and shame communities such as Travis County.

In a piece titled, “Source: ICE is targeting ‘sanctuary cities’ with raids,” CNN reports:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been targeting so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ with increased enforcement operations in an effort to pressure those jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration agents, a senior US immigration official with direct knowledge of ongoing ICE actions told CNN … High-ranking ICE officials have discussed in internal meetings carrying out more raids on those locations, said the source.

…during a recent meeting between ICE and some non-governmental organizations shortly after this operation took place, concerned pro-immigrant advocates were told by a high-ranking ICE official that if their agents were not going to be granted access to local jails, they had no choice but to carry out large-scale apprehensions in other public places or homes. She said the message was clear: cooperate or expect more raids.

Meanwhile, in the Daily Beast, Betsy Woodruff highlights the range of pressure and intimidation tactics visited against jurisdictions such as Travis County, TX. Woodruff writes:

Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and other advocates of tougher immigration enforcement urge local police and sheriffs to help ICE in its deportation efforts. But many local law enforcement officials—including Travis County’s new sheriff, Sally Hernandez—are hesitant, fearing that undocumented immigrants will be less likely to help police track down dangerous criminals if those police are in cahoots with ICE. When Hernandez announced the county wouldn’t always cooperate with Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott cut state funding to the county.

… ‘What remains to be seen is how much the sheriff and the local government leaders and the citizens and residents of Travis County are willing to sacrifice in order to maintain the sanctuary policy,’ said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). CIS is one of the outside groups with the most influence on Trump’s immigration policy goals, and it has long pushed for this strategy. Vaughan said she hopes the Justice Department goes even farther, potentially prosecuting Travis County officials under a section of the U.S. code that bars jurisdictions from ‘harboring illegal aliens.’

…[Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott then talked up a bill that recently passed the Texas state Senate which would require jurisdictions there to comply with ICE. ‘We’re working on a piece of legislation that will impose criminal penalties, where the sheriff herself can wind up behind bars and, hence, be removed from office, fines that can add up to millions of dollars per year, as well as other penalties,’ he said.

Communities that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement do so for good reason – because their priority is public safety for all residents. So called “sanctuary” counties have lower crime rates than other communities, in no small part due to the trust between local law enforcement and the entire community.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s mass deportation strategy are already harming local law enforcement efforts. For example, last week, the LAPD reported that Latino immigrants were now less willing to report crimes due to immigration-related fears of interacting with police. This development, also reported in other communities across the country, has disturbing implications for local law enforcement efforts to enhance public safety.

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, including DREAMers such as Daniel Ramirez Medina and Daniela Vargas. Despite the disturbing accusations against ICE, the Trump Administration’s supplemental DHS spending request seeks billions of additional taxpayer dollars to expand ICE and implement other building blocks of Trump’s mass deportation vision.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:

Retaliation against elected officials for doing what they think is right to make their communities safe for all? Targeting jurisdictions to send a political message? Trying to intimidate responsible officials with talk of prosecution? Sounds like some authoritarian state with weak democratic institutions. It’s simply outrageous that the Trump Administration and their ICE agents are putting politics and scapegoating of immigrants ahead of public safety and the ability of local communities to decide how best to keep their communities safe. Somebody tell these guys that this is America, and here we have something called a Constitution, the rule of law and civilian oversight of armed agents of the state.