Working In These Times
After Detroit School Scandal, Strong Words From ICE Union President
Immigration enforcement at a Detroit elementary school on April 5 galvanized local residents, unions and immigrants rights groups to strike out at the increasingly embattled federal agency. But they aren’t the only ones pointing to incidents in Detroit as a symbol of their anger at higher-ups in Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The union that represents about 7,000 ICE agents nationwide also released a statement decrying ICE official response to the events, and challenging the widely reported version of what happened at the school—by most accounts, a raid wherein multiple ICE vehicles surrounded the school as largely immigrant parents were dropping their children off, terrifying law-abiding families and detaining several parents.
The union portrayed the raid's aftermath as another example of what they see as a trend of higher-ups not supporting agents doing dangerous work in the field. In an email interview with Working In These Times, union president Chris Crane said:
During our last annual local presidents meeting we had a secret survey of sorts asking local leaders to identify the most significant problem that they wanted the union to address. One would expect issues such as better pay to be at the top of the list (by the way, it was not multiple choice, just a blank piece of paper), but shockingly enough the unanimous number one choice was some variation of “redefine officers, agents and employees to the American public.”
ICE employees are ridiculed and hated by all; from the public, to special interest groups, to other law enforcement agencies and the media, to politicians and our own president.
The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council of the American Federation of Government Employees said in a statement about the April 5 incident that agents were only following procedure in doing surveillance on an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record whom they were planning to detain. In the union statement, Crane said:
None of the people making these allegations have the facts; ICE Agents were acting under an order from a Federal Judge. No man, woman or child was terrorized or harassed; nobody surrounded the school or took any other action around it.
Speaking at a press conference a week after the raid, school principal Ali Abdel and other locals said the ICE raid had left the school a “ghost town.” The People’s World reported:
Speakers laid the blame for the outrageous actions at the feet of the Detroit ICE director, Rebecca Adducci. Democratic State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents the area, said such actions are becoming a pattern under Adducci, with reports of agents setting up checkpoints and watching schools, churches and supermarkets.
Crane said ICE agents are unfairly demonized in the public eye.
These negative public opinions are all based on the completely false and misleading information presented by ICE, DHS, political interest groups and political leaders that go uncontested.
If you have ever poured your heart into something, worked on it day and night and gave it all you had, only to have someone accuse you of being lazy and not caring about your work, then you know how ICE employees feel every minute of every day.
Our employees are incredibly understaffed and absolutely overwhelmed with their workloads, but remain dedicated and work extremely hard for extremely long hours every day, but in the end practically everyone has some type of negative opinion about them.
Crane denounced ICE spokesman Brian Hale for indicating to media that agents appeared to have violated ICE policy during the incident, saying:
Show me another law enforcement agency that does not always tell the press at the onset “we are investigating and will provide a more detailed response at the conclusion of our investigation.”
While immigrants rights groups, labor unions, civil rights groups and an increasing number of elected official and law enforcement officers have accused ICE of being too draconian and violating civil rights, the union opposes ICE assistant secretary John Morton and other officials for in their view being too lenient and other complaints. Last summer the union passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Morton and Phyllis Coven, assistant director of detention policy and planning.
Crane told Working In These Times:
ICE employees agree with the public and are angry and frustrated with republicans, democrats and DHS and ICE, except we are even more upset because we are on the inside and understand how corrupted the Agency and many lawmakers are and the impact it is having at so many different levels...
It was liberating to publicly state that as ICE EMPLOYEES we separate ourselves from the Agency and the Administration’s policies (we did not agree with Bush either) and simultaneously blow the whistle on issues of concern for both sides of the immigration debate.
According to The Washington Times, the union’s statement blamed Morton and Coven for cushy treatment of undocumented immigrants.
ICE detention reforms have transformed into a detention system aimed at providing resort-like living conditions to criminal aliens based on recommendations not from ICE officers and field managers, but from “special-interest groups.”
The lack of technical expertise and field experience has resulted in a priority of providing bingo nights, dance lessons and hanging plants to criminals, instead of addressing safe and responsible detention reforms for noncriminal individuals and families.
The statement, however, clashes with Crane's comments to Working In These Times, in which he complained of greatly overcrowded detention centers that make work dangerous for agents.
While right-wing bloggers are viciously attacking teachers and other public sector union members, some have risen to the defense of the ICE public employees union. For example, blogger Debbie Schlussel wrote:
Even before I began hearing from outraged, demoralized ICE agents, their families, and their union, I was already outraged by the latest behavior of Barack Hussein Obama’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief John the Moron Morton.