Even amid a pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) won’t take a break from targeting immigrants. The federal agency not only continues to separate families but has announced policies and training programs set to further the Trump administration’s xenophobic agenda. In an announcement first published last week, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) shared its plans to offer the Chicago community a “ERO Citizens Academy.” The program, modeled after other law enforcement academies, according to the announcement, aims to spread ICE’s mission and “debunk myths.”
“The academy is a natural progression from the outreach work we have already been doing with our community,” ERO Chicago Field Office Director Robert Guadian said in the announcement. “This is an opportunity for the community to get to know our officers, understand our mission, and see firsthand how the agency enforces the federal immigration laws enacted by Congress.”
In other words, the “Citizens Academy” is an ICE tactic to recruit more xenophobic individuals who are missing “firearms familiarization” and train them in a six-week program to take joy in arresting undocumented people. Under the guise of community outreach, it is further spreading its agenda of violence and surveillance of the immigrant community. According to NPR affiliate WBEZ Chicago, 10 to 12 participants will be selected for the training, which is set to begin in September.
The cruel agency is inviting participants from “stakeholder backgrounds” including leaders from the community, local politics, and both corporate and religious sectors. While ICE fails to adequately provide health care and protective gear to those in its custody, the agency has guaranteed that those participating in the program will be safe in terms of health and issued personal protective equipment.
Given ICE’s historic past of violent and inhumane tactics, both in and outside of Chicago, immigrant rights advocates are seeing right through ICE’s plan. "It's very alarming that ICE is organizing this propaganda," Rey Wences of Organized Communities Against Deportation told NPR. "What we know, from the work we've been doing for years against deportation in the city, is that ICE is very violent." Wences added that the agency is infamously known for lying about its practices.
"I'm concerned the invitation might appeal to right-wing individuals, vigilante-types who see this as a way of becoming deputized," U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, of Illinois' Fourth Congressional District said, according to NBC News. In a Facebook post, Garcia added that upon hearing of the program he first thought it was “fake news” or a prank. He noted that the “program would encourage people to act as vigilantes and racially profile community members. Not hard to think how this can lead to attacks and violence against immigrants and undocumented people. “
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez of the city's 33rd Ward reiterated in a Facebook post Garcia’s sentiment of the program being for vigilantes. “ICE is constantly updating their approach to terrorizing our communities and tearing families apart but this is a new low,” she said. “In this community we protect each other. In this community we look out for the collective well-being of our neighborhoods.” In a statement to NBC News, Rodriguez added that Chicago is “a sanctuary city that we’ve fought so hard for.”
Despite the fear and horrific violence ICE has implemented nationwide, Guadian told WBEZ Chicago he was surprised to learn the agency was feared in Chicago. "I realized there was a sentiment of fear against ICE that I hadn't experienced in my career or even growing up along the Southwest border," he said.
In a statement to Newsweek on Monday, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon called on fellow Congress members to demand that the academy be defunded, with emphasis that the program could “encourage profiling and vigilante operations and extenuate the divisions that we have in America. The last thing we need is to increase the … divisiveness, the racial prejudice and the profiling that's already a big challenge we're facing as a nation," he said.
The senator added that launching such a program, which includes training on defensive tactics such as firearm use, during widespread outcries of racial injustice and police brutality is “more than tone-deaf.” "It just sounds like it's trying to pour gasoline on the fire of racial division and profiling. They should cancel this program," Merkley said.
According to Merkley, representatives could introduce an amendment blocking agencies like ICE from using department funding to host such academies during a markup of the Homeland Security 2021 funding bill set to take place Wednesday by the House Committee of Appropriations. A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee told Newsweek Tuesday that the committee has contacted ICE with concerns in regards to the program.
As Organized Communities Against Deportations beautifully noted, an agency of such a nature, “can’t improve community relations when they are part of the problem, they need to be dismantled.” The immigrant rights organization urged individuals “to join the movement against the agency responsible for the separation of families” in Chicago and nationwide.