Olivia Canny (MANAJ 2021) is the news editor at F Newsmagazine. She likes taking long walks on Google Street View.
Illustration by Ishita Dharap
When Chicago’s former mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the Welcoming City Ordinance in 2012, he expressed an aim to “make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the country.” To this day, city agencies must limit their involvement and cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal operations that seek to deport individuals living in Chicago. But the rule doesn’t apply to citizens, and a new initiative by ICE and its Enforcement and Removal Operations team will extend the agency’s deportation training to Chicagoans “from a variety of stakeholder backgrounds,” according to a statement by ICE on July 13.
There’s actually a discrepancy between ICE’s official news release and the letter that the agency sent to Chicagoans that it identified as its stakeholders, inviting them to apply to the “Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Citizens Academy,” a six-week course that will begin on Sept. 15, 2020. ICE’s release calls the academy a “natural progression from the outreach work we have already been doing,” and claims that its mission is to share officer perspectives and debunk myths within the larger community. It says that the curriculum will include “classroom instruction, visiting an immigration detention center, learning more about the healthcare ICE provides to those in its custody, and examining ICE’s role in ensuring dignity, respect and due process of an immigration case from start to finish.”
But in the letter, which addresses each respective stakeholder as “a valued member of the community,” the curriculum list includes “defensive tactics, firearms familiarization, and targeted arrests.”
A spokesperson for ICE told Newsweek that “ICE is not training anyone to do immigration enforcement.” But while this program claims to align itself to the type of community involvement characteristic of the organizers and politicians who work against ICE’s objective, it’s hard to believe this to be true. Could this be a deliberate attempt to infiltrate and deflect activism in the community? And even if it isn’t, what exactly are the agency’s intentions in implementing a project like this — the first of its kind in the United States — in a city with a long and prominent history of supporting and protecting its immigrant neighbors?
When ICE follows through with deportations and raids in Chicago, it sees significant backlash from both the community and the city government. In early July of 2019, the agency conducted a nationwide deportation sweep. Trump tweeted about the sweep a few weeks prior, giving activists and politicians time to prepare; Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded with opposition: “Chicago is and will always be a welcoming city that will never tolerate ICE tearing our families apart.” Activists and progressive aldermen went to CTA stations during rush hour and distributed information to educate the community on their rights if approached by a deportation officer.
There are three ICE detention centers in Illinois, and several more “shelters” in Chicago, most of which isolate migrant children from their families.
Now, in light of ICE’s “Citizens Academy,” politicians are speaking out against the agency once again. U.S. Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, who represents Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, tweeted his disapproval on the day of ICE’s announcement: “ICE's so-called ‘citizen academies’ are nothing more than taxpayer-funded PR stunts to improve the image of an agency that continues to cage migrant children in inhumane and deadly detention centers.” García also told Newsweek that the program first came to his attention through social media, expressing resentment of the fact that the agency didn’t make any effort to bring the program to his attention before announcing it publicly.
Mayor Lightfoot also took to Twitter to voice her disapproval of ICE’s Citizen Academy. “In this welcoming city, vigilantes are NOT welcome,” she wrote. “ICE's plan to train civilians to surveil and intimidate immigrant and refugee communities is vile. We will always stand up for and protect all of our residents, no matter who this administration tries to scapegoat.”
“Vigilantes” were actually the initial unit of what Alex Vitale calls the U.S.’s “own domestic version of colonial policing” — the Texas Rangers. “Their main work was to hunt down native populations accused of attacking white settlers,” Vitale writes, adding that this ultimately amounted to an “extermination campaign” to kill and drive out Mexicans, Native Americans, and Tejanos as white settlers flocked to the Southwest in the late 1800s. Back then, some deportation procedures took the form of mass slayings, like the 1918 Porvenir Massacre.
At their outset, the Rangers were arguably the catalyst for Anglo expansion in the decade before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo defined the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico; they evolved from a ragtag border patrol to a state-sponsored force for Manifest Destiny and genocide. Their principles extend to practices that we associate with ICE, like the unsympathetic separation of children from their parents and family.
ICE isn’t border patrol, though. When the agency arose in the early 2000s, its stated mission was to “prevent acts of terrorism by targeting the people, money, and materials that support terrorist and criminal activities.” But in 2009, Congress increased is funding, resulting in an escalation of deportations of noncriminal undocumented immigrants. While U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) holds children in cages along the border, ICE operates detention centers around the country that are more likely to restrict adults.
There are three ICE detention centers in Illinois, and several more “shelters” scattered throughout the city of Chicago; though the shelters are not affiliated with ICE or CBP, they uphold procedures of isolating migrant children from their families.
Chicago’s history as a sanctuary for immigrants spans decades; several churches through the city opened their doors to Central American asylum seekers in the 1980s, one of which was the second to do so in the U.S. Similarly, ICE’s “Citizens Academy” is the first of its kind, making its nationwide debut here in Chicago. The agency is calling it a “pilot,” with the potential to be implemented in other cities in the future. Of course, that depends on how well the program fulfills ICE’s intentions, and if we look to Chicago’s past, political and social opposition could very well stand in the agency’s way. The Chicago City Council Latino Caucus wrote in a letter to ICE on July 16, “We will not allow ICE to terrorize our communities through this racist program that seeks to instill fear and distrust among neighbors. We won’t collaborate, we will actively boycott these efforts, and we will urge our fellow Chicagoans to join us in the movement to protect our immigrant families and neighbors from deportation.” f