Unpredictable and Brutal ICE Raids Are Allowing Trump to Rule by Fear

Protections for immigrant communities were already meager. Now, safeguards are being scrapped as the Trump administration escalates nationwide sweeps.

Michelle Chen August 8, 2017

Then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with government cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Pres­i­den­t’s lat­est cab­i­net shuf­fle may seem chaot­ic, but even if exec­u­tive agen­cies are par­a­lyzed, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties’ ruth­less assaults on com­mu­ni­ties con­tin­ues apace. Gen­er­al John Kel­ly’s tenure at Home­land Secu­ri­ty last­ed long enough to crank up U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforcement’s (ICE) depor­ta­tion machine, scrap the few safe­guards for due process grant­ed under the pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion and pave the way for even harsh­er crack­downs under his successor.

The crackdowns have galvanized grassroots organizations to launch community-defense efforts: Know-Your-Rights training workshops, emergency legal aid for families without attorneys and court challenges pressuring officials to protest Trump's policies.

Nowhere seems safe from a fed­er­al sweep. Legal advo­cates have shift­ed from reform advo­ca­cy to full-fledged defen­sive mode, as Trump appears to be fast track­ing depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings even for aspir­ing col­lege stu­dents, domes­tic vio­lence vic­tims and fam­i­ly breadwinners.

Mem­phis and sev­er­al oth­er south­ern cities saw scores of arrests dur­ing July, as ICE forces descend­ed for sev­er­al days in mass roundups tar­get­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly Lati­no areas. Accord­ing to Casey Bryant of the advo­ca­cy group Lati­no Mem­phis, ICE sought to appre­hend res­i­dents with­out pre­sent­ing judi­cial war­rants. ICE agents are sur­round­ing peo­ple’s vehi­cles and demand­ing that they get out of the car…They’re rolling up in these big SUVs, three or four at a time, and just catch­ing who­ev­er they see,” she says. Some­times they fin­ished up a day of raids by bang­ing on the doors of Lati­no neigh­bor­hoods, says Bryant, observ­ing: It seems like it moves from one place to another.”

Fol­low­ing a racial­ly incen­di­ary speech in Long Island, Trump has set the stage for dra­mat­ic raids aimed at get­ting tough’ on sup­posed gang crime in the sub­urbs. In real­i­ty, advo­cates across Los Ange­les, Col­orado Springs and oth­er cities have con­demned the recent pat­tern of bru­tal ICE sweeps, which seem to neglect even the min­i­mal pro­tec­tions the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion had applied to its enforce­ment efforts, which sup­pos­ed­ly pri­or­i­tized migrants with seri­ous crim­i­nal con­vic­tions. Under Trump, ICE has report­ed­ly even tar­get­ed local home­less shel­ters and cour­t­house hall­ways.

Still, ICE claims to be tar­get­ing young men who alleged­ly fit the stereo­type of Cen­tral Amer­i­can gang mem­bers, and has announced an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of a nation­wide depor­ta­tion dri­ve going after peo­ple who sup­pos­ed­ly pose a threat to nation­al secu­ri­ty.” Mem­phis has seen sev­er­al old­er migrants detained in the recent roundups, many of them long-set­tled blue-col­lar work­ers with fam­i­lies and no crim­i­nal records. Many have lived in the Unit­ed States for years and are just encoun­ter­ing ICE for the first time.

The crack­downs have gal­va­nized grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions to launch com­mu­ni­ty-defense efforts: Know-Your-Rights train­ing work­shops, emer­gency legal aid for fam­i­lies with­out attor­neys and court chal­lenges pres­sur­ing offi­cials to protest Trump’s poli­cies. Accord­ing to the Immi­grant Defense Project, which just rolled out a toolk­it to help com­mu­ni­ties cope with ICE raids and deten­tion, immi­grants should be wary that they’re vul­ner­a­ble to being appre­hend­ed in any pub­lic space. Yet, the orga­ni­za­tion argues that suc­cumb­ing to fear is not the answer, not­ing indi­vid­u­als are free to refuse entry to an offi­cer try­ing to enter their home with­out a war­rant. The group warns of the decep­tive tac­tics ICE is said to reg­u­lar­ly employ — includ­ing pre­tend­ing to be local police instead of fed­er­al agents, or bran­dish­ing their weapons to intim­i­date families.

The most dis­turb­ing trend may be the lack of any pat­tern at all. In recent months, some local law enforce­ment agen­cies say they have been frus­trat­ed by ICE’s brazen inter­ven­tions. Depend­ing on local pol­i­tics, some dis­tricts have agreed to active­ly work with ICE agents. But even in red states like Ari­zona, where sadis­ti­cal­ly xeno­pho­bic Sher­iff Joe Arpaio was recent­ly oust­ed, many agen­cies have refused to col­lab­o­rate on poli­cies that might stoke racial ten­sions or alien­ate communities.

The increas­ing­ly diver­gent approach­es that local author­i­ties are tak­ing to immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy — with many munic­i­pal­i­ties vow­ing to resist Home­land Security’s effort to coöpt local agen­cies — are divid­ing Wash­ing­ton. One stick­ing point is so-called sanc­tu­ary cities,” which open­ly oppose col­lu­sion with fed­er­al immi­gra­tion enforce­ment actions. Trump, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions, con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans and — more recent­ly—state law­mak­ers in Texas, Geor­gia and Indi­ana, have tried to impose fund­ing restric­tions for dis­tricts that resist ICE poli­cies. But the most dra­con­ian pro­pos­als have been thwart­ed by con­sti­tu­tion­al lit­i­ga­tion and mas­sive local backlash.

But some local efforts to pro­tect migrants—for exam­ple, by refus­ing to hold arrestees in local jails on ICE’s behalf for pend­ing immi­gra­tion inves­ti­ga­tions—may be of lim­it­ed use amid the chaos of the flash raids. Bryant points out that, while police have vowed not to col­lude with ICE, local offi­cers have been entan­gled in raids when fed­er­al agents have called police for back up on the scene. And in some self-pro­claimed pro­gres­sive sanc­tu­ary cities like New York, zero tol­er­ance” over-polic­ing has need­less­ly exposed immi­grants to ICE inter­ven­tions, because the rou­tine mass arrests in poor com­mu­ni­ties of col­or make migrants vul­ner­a­ble to being picked up by fed­er­al author­i­ties while in jail.

As more cities face fis­cal and polit­i­cal pres­sure, the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union has advised local author­i­ties to retain local con­trol, stat­ing: The admin­is­tra­tion can­not force them to help round up immi­grants, and it can­not threat­en them by invent­ing new rules out of thin air.”

Of course, under Trump’s impro­vi­sa­tion­al approach to gov­ern­ing, it has become clear to immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties that his admin­is­tra­tion doesn’t need to rewrite rules to rule by fear.

While press­ing local offi­cials to con­demn ICE and resist col­lu­sion with Home­land Secu­ri­ty, Lati­no Mem­phis is try­ing to help com­mu­ni­ties sur­vive the trau­ma of the crack­down. The orga­ni­za­tion is pro­vid­ing legal advice and assis­tance with secur­ing bond, since many detainees are impris­oned far from their fam­i­lies at the La Salle Deten­tion Facil­i­ty in Louisiana, with vir­tu­al­ly no access to local attorneys.

Not even lawyers, how­ev­er, can gauge ICE’s next move. Day by day, Bryant says, Lati­no Mem­phis is just try­ing to make sure that fam­i­lies can keep on liv­ing their lives with­out too much fear or anx­i­ety, and try­ing to allay that any­way we can, work­ing with fam­i­lies to not be afraid to enroll their chil­dren in school and…to take care of them­selves and their family.”

That may be the worst impact of these raids. Trump’s real tri­umph in his war on migrants is spread­ing the sheer ter­ror of know­ing that each new day they spend in their adopt­ed home­land may become their last.

Michelle Chen is a con­tribut­ing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at Dis­sent and a co-pro­duc­er of the Bela­bored” pod­cast. She stud­ies his­to­ry at the CUNY Grad­u­ate Cen­ter. She tweets at @meeshellchen.
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