ICE Raids: The New Gestapo in our Brown Communities?
By: D. firstname.lastname@example.org
Terror Sweeps Orange County Residents
The last couple weeks have struck sharply in the hearts of thousands in Orange County and surrounding areas with reports of O.C.’s largest historical sweep of immigration raids. What’s worse is that many O.C. based activists felt like we were the last to learn about these terror-bringing sweeps into the communities of our families or loved ones; I didn’t learn about the sweep until I inadvertently saw the Lou Dobbs bragging with joy about it on his conservative republican show on CNN.
Local press reported that these sweeps were just the beginning, “the first operation of a new fugitive-operations team in Orange County” [Taxin, 2007]. O.C.’s team officially went into business on June 1st of this year, just a couple weeks before the intensified raids hit the news. The press also reports that this makes O.C.’s team 1 of 61 teams across the country, 5 of which being in California, with 14 more teams scheduled to initiate before the end of this year.
According to an ICE press release dated just in the peak of the 5-day sweeps, these teams are in actually called “Fugitive Operations Teams (FOT)” [ICE 2007] who are charged with “reducing the number of people, especially those with criminal records, who fail to follow court orders to deport” [Taxin 2007]. These teams and goals are officially grouped into of a nationwide initiative called “Operation Cross Check.”
Among the problems with O.C.’s sweeps is that the press continually puts forth this image of these sweeps picking up terrible criminals, with one story of a child molestor, another of someone wanted for murder in their home state in Mexico, another with drug charges, etc. Yet, the numbers clearly reported in any of the mainstream media show that only 27 of the 175 total arrested (in this 5-day sweep) had any criminal record whatsoever. On the contrary, based on reports O.C. activists gained by forming our own “teams” of walking through the community, often in several shifts per day, the week following the raids to give fliers for upcoming protest and let them see that they’re not alone—is that the people taken were anything but criminals.
The reports our “teams” learned were many—but included some of the following:
· A father walking home from his children’s school was asked, as he was arriving at front door of his apartment, if he recognized a photo of a women. The men appeared as police, according to interviews with the victim, and he agreed to talk to them and try to help. But, when he was not able to help them or recognize the photo, police then apparently started aggressively questioning him, accusing him of lying, then ultimately demanding to see identification. Since he was not able to provide identification, he was then arrested (as if a fugitive himself) and taken to a detention center where he still sits.
· Two men sitting at a bus stop waiting to go to work early in the morning when agents approached them and questioned them. The individual who had papers or identification with him (according to reports), was not taken into custody whereas his friend sitting next to him was.
· Many parents complained that as they met their children when school got out that agents would wait until they began walking back and detain and arrest people while walking their kids home on the bike trails in Santa Ana. This report was especially emphasized around Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Ana.
· ICE trucks arrived several times at busy 4th Street business district in Santa Ana, by one report—covering entrances and exits of a local shopping area and taking an unknown amount of people away. Witnesses on the streets report they took as many as 20 people away.
· Several reports were received of unmarked white ICE vans cornering off streets in Irvine between 2 and 4 o’clock in the morning the week following the 5-day sweep awaiting crews of janitors to get off work.
· Other reports in the same district of Santa Ana include that the week after the 5-day sweep, immigration officers were seen walking through their streets, talking to business owners, with guns as part of their uniforms, sending people to hide out of fear until their departure.
· A report of a raid at a 7-11 in Santa Ana on 17th Street
· A report of a raid at Chapman Street in Orange (just days earlier, other reports were given of helicopters seen suspiciously in area circling about with no apparent police business at hand).
The list goes on and on of reports of raids, with confirmation difficult to obtain since the only information we have to rely on is the reports from OC Register, LA Times and similar press giving personal reports only of “criminal” arrests, effectively ignoring the remaining 85% of arrests that supposedly were taken into custody during “house visits.” Based on our research, “house visits” seem to be the minority of ways that people were arrested. Therefore, our reports are in the hands of the people and community members we speak to, with some confirmation made more clearly when we receive multiple reports of the same incident happening at the same location, or when we’re able to interview the actual arrestee or family of arrestee as we did in some cases included in this report.
For now, people are now taking notice of that building down the street in Santa Ana, and those white vans that perhaps before we didn’t pay as much attention to that say “Homeland Security” on their side panels with large flood lights on the roof. These vans, and also unmarked white or even reports of unmarked brown tinted vans, are any of the possible vehicles used in conducting these raids, with vehicles often used to block off street ends and close in on their “targets” as ICE so delicately refers to their victims as.
The impression is that these ‘sweeps” or “raids” are still only the beginning, with many reports of raids occurring after the press’s fantastic coverage ended for the initial 5-day sweep during June 18th to June 22th. I can’t honestly say whether these “Homeland Security” immigration vehicles were always on the road before in such great measure, but I know that as of the last couple of weeks—we’ll pass by vehicles as many as two or three times during a single drive down Main Street in Santa Ana. I even have noticed these vans now on the 91 Freeway in Corona, exiting into the community.
What does all this mean? I think this means that we must pay better attention to growth of ICE as there is every indication that what we’ve seen in O.C., and realistically—across the country with many other devastating raids taking place in Colorado, Minnesota, Chicago, even Oregon, etc., that if anything—such raids are only destined to grow. This point is even further recognized with the recent failure of immigration legislature in congress, leaving the country until after next elections until it will be brought to the table again. Fears are that this will increase the frenzy of ICE sweeps and that of local agencies taking matters into their own hands in questionable ways.
Background on ICE
First off, let’s clarify what happened to the good old names everybody usually recognizes with immigration. In 2003, the department of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) was changed, given a new name and also a new “daddy,” so to speak, by becoming U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S. CIS) as an agency of U.S. Homeland Security.
The enforcement of entity formerly known as INS was taken into a new agency and combined with U.S. Customs creating the largest enforcement branch of Homeland Security known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE Agency). It’s important to note that ICE is an enforcement agency, whereas U.S. CIS is the administrative branch of immigration and citizenship matters.
Therefore, when “ICE” shows up at your door or street corner, they will likely wear a uniform that first says POLICE and then below it will say ICE. However, ICE’s current operations (Operation Cross Check) and likely others as well as incorporating the use of local law enforcement support, with reports acknowledging Los Angeles and Orange County Sheriffs as playing a significant part in the raids and arrests of Operation Cross Check.
Other research on the ICE agency indicates that the branch of ICE (they have 4 main branches of operation) that takes part in the raids is the Department of Detention and Removal (DRO), with John Torres being the Director of DRO. ICE also has a Office of Professional Responsibility, which is where questions of conduct of ICE agents would be brought under question. Their phone number is based at what seems to be a headquarters for many ICE operations, right here in O.C.’s Laguna Niguel [(949) 360-3540]. It seems that whether you are filing a complaint, or even applying for employment at any ICE branch throughout the country, that the Laguna Niguel branch is the headquarters for any such location. Significance of this is that—a signicant amount of power of the ICE agency seems to be coming from right here in the O.C., second only to their Washington D.C. operations.
ICE in Local Police Agencies
So far, the city of Santa Ana, which is base to many O.C. activists, has publicly maintained that their police force has not been cooperating with ICE in any way, as stated during this last week’s city council meeting where dozens of activists spoke out during public comments about the empty streets in their communities and fear resulting from the ICE raids.
This brings us to the next topic—of “ICE in Orange County”, the subject of a 2006-2007 Grand Jury report revealing on-going cooperation between ICE and local agencies.
Ten years ago, congress passed section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which “brings local police officers into immigration enforcement” (Mac Donald 2006). It wasn’t until after 9/11 that local police agencies starting putting this into effect, beginning with Florida police learning that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 had been pulled over on routine traffic stops in their state and their illegal immigration status (expired visas) was not recognized.
This hardly seems to provide the grounds to assume that by checking immigration status will thereby help law enforcement agencies weed out the criminals and terrorists, unless the assumption is that it is only or largely immigrants who will perform such acts.
Nevertheless, the trend has been getting picked up in cities and counties across the country, with Orange County signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA between the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department (OCSD) with the main objective to allow OCSD deputies to check the immigration status of all individuals booked in OCSD jails, and placing ICE as working partners within OCSD [2006-2007 Orange County Grand Jury].
There are many provisions under this MOA, but most importantly is the evidence of trend towards profiling immigrants, increasing local police agencies’ access to ICE databases, training local law enforcement with federal ICE authority, and having ICE staff available to local police agencies.
Concerns that even the Grand Jury Report indicate is that of the desire for some to want to use suspicion of immigration status as a reason for being held period. Under the Grand Jury’s report (p. 5), they state on two different occasions that law enforcement agencies will be “making a concentrated effort to ensure that citizens do not feel they are being detained by police in order to check their immigration status.” The very admission that “a concentrated effort” needs to be made reveals the tendency of such events to occur.
Furthermore, under the “Areas of Concern” section of the above mentioned report is a line that needs further research and/or perhaps reveals a violation of their own rules when it says:
Other areas of the country have reported that ICE has made “sweeps” of businesses to fund [undocumented individuals], even thought he MOA with Orange County prohibits these encounters, the fear remains.
Has this MOA changed? Or, are sweeps of businesses now allowed in Orange County? Because clear and definite evidence indicates that such sweeps have and surely continue to take place.
In closing, thanks to segregation of lower income, of-color communities from middle class (more White) communities, most people have no idea of just how desperate these situations have become. Although the immigrant community responds bravely by continuing to show up to work, at the bus stops or walk their kids to and from school perhaps accepting this as a reality for the undocumented immigrant in this country—nevertheless if widespread awareness of this U.S. inflicted, Gestapo style of terror were made known—it’s possible that even some of the more conservative members in our audiences would be in outraged opposition.
Racial or cultural profiling is not nor has it ever been legal (though what's legal often has limited bearing on what's reality). The problem is that there is at present limited to no accountability for the behavior of ICE agency and their collaborating friends. ICE raids are happening in the dark, with media only showing up to toot the horn of a biased angle of child molesting heathens being taken away.
People in Orange County, Los Angeles, and many others throughout the country are working at developing various types of emergency response networks so that advocates can be informed when the raids are happening and show up with protest signs and video cameras, providing an audience of the otherwise unmonitored ICE agency. Most recently, Orange County activists have begun passing out a hotline number initiated by Frente Contra Las Redadas (Front against the Raids) based in Los Angeles area, because even with an L.A. area code, their hotline was area receiving phone calls of O.C. raids as they were happening. Networks are now being tightened up lending to greater communication across regions, and sharing of skills and resources. The hotline currently is place for ICE raids or any suspicious activity of ICE agents in your area which will be forwarded to Orange County activists as well as Los Angeles activists, is (562) 236-3939.