We Were Against ICE Before It Existed

The criminalization of immigrants goes back well before ICE’s inception.

In These Times Editors

R.M. Arrieta wrote “Roundups Ratcheted” for the July 5, 2004, issue of In These Times. The photo depicts border agents with two undocumented immigrants waiting for transportation in Arizona in 2003.

Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), the fed­er­al police force tasked with arrest­ing and deport­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, was cre­at­ed in 2003 amid the wave of pan­ic and nativism fol­low­ing 911. In the July 5, 2004, issue, two In These Times arti­cles revealed that the new agency’s abus­es began right from the start — and in fact, the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of immi­grants goes back well before ICE’s inception.

ICE has always been worthy of abolition—and, indeed, never should have been created in the first place.

Pri­or to the cre­ation of the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (and, under its umbrel­la, ICE), immi­grant deten­tion cen­ters were under the purview of the Jus­tice Depart­ment. In 2004, In These Times pub­lished a review of Mark Dow’s Amer­i­can Gulag: Inside U.S. Immi­gra­tion Pris­ons. The book doc­u­ments cas­es of abuse and unjust impris­on­ment in [Immi­grant and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vices (INS)] deten­tion cen­ters dat­ing back to the 1980s and the influx of immi­grants from coun­tries like Haiti, Guatemala and El Salvador.”

This envi­ron­ment thrived because detainees were trapped in a legal nether­world and few out­side the deten­tion cen­ter walls noticed.” Mis­treat­ment inten­si­fied as the num­ber of immi­grant detainees steadi­ly rose, from 5,532 in 1994 to 20,000 in 2001.

Fol­low­ing 911, the Jus­tice Depart­ment expand­ed the pow­er of INS with a series of dra­con­ian mea­sures, includ­ing clos­ing immi­gra­tion hear­ings to the pub­lic and hold­ing detainees with­out charge for 48 hours (or, in emer­gency cas­es, indefinitely).

That expan­sion set the stage for the cre­ation of ICE and the aggres­sive home and work­place raids that have since become the face of immi­gra­tion enforcement.

In the same July 2004 issue, R.M. Arri­eta report­ed for In These Times on nation­wide sweeps hap­pen­ing under the moniker Oper­a­tion Endgame.” The piece demon­strates that ICE has always been wor­thy of abo­li­tion — and, indeed, nev­er should have been cre­at­ed in the first place.

Eight months ago Oper­a­tion Endgame was placed on the fast track under the aus­pices of Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment, or ICE, the new­ly formed inves­tiga­tive arm of the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty … and one of three new bureaus of the for­mer Immi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vice. With a big­ger bud­get and more agents, the man­date is to catch some of the esti­mat­ed 400,000 undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants who have final removal orders and deport them.

Right now we have more than 20,000 peo­ple in ICE cus­tody nation­wide,” says ICE spokes­woman Vir­ginia Kice.

Since March, civ­il rights groups nation­wide have report­ed a marked increase in the ques­tion­ing, deten­tion and depor­ta­tion of undoc­u­ment­ed immigrants.

Dur­ing a week in April [2004], near­ly 170 peo­ple were arrest­ed on the East Coast fol­low­ing three flights from Los Ange­les to Newark Lib­er­ty and JFK Inter­na­tion­al airports.

In March, fed­er­al author­i­ties picked up almost two dozen undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers at a con­struc­tion site in Dade City, Fla. Also in March, a week­long crack­down in New Eng­land picked up 60 undoc­u­ment­ed immigrants.

In Hous­ton, Texas, rumors of mass immi­gra­tion raids cre­at­ed such pan­ic in Lati­no neigh­bor­hoods that they stopped send­ing their kids to school, stopped attend­ing church, stopped going to work, there was a dra­mat­ic shift in the traf­fic,” says Arnal­do Gar­cia, of the Nation­al Net­work for Immi­grant and Refugee Rights in Oak­land, Calif.

Accord­ing to civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions, agents have been employ­ing a new tac­tic that tar­gets one per­son to gain access to an apart­ment build­ing or home, and then ends with the detain­ing and deport­ing of oth­er undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. This hap­pened May 6 in San Fran­cis­co when agents entered the res­i­den­tial Sun­rise Hotel to detain a res­i­dent who alleged­ly vio­lat­ed immi­gra­tion orders.

Agents caught their tar­get, but pressed oth­er res­i­dents for their legal sta­tus as they walked through the lob­by on their way to work. Agents swept up nine undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers; all but one signed vol­un­tary depor­ta­tion notices.

The raid drew the ire of city offi­cials. San Fran­cis­co Super­vi­sors Tom Ammi­ano and Chris Daly, in whose dis­trict the raid took place, intro­duced a res­o­lu­tion urg­ing the FBI and ICE to stop tar­get­ing hard­work­ing immi­grants. It passed over­whelm­ing­ly. If immi­grants are detained, the res­o­lu­tion requires that access to legal coun­sel be pro­vid­ed, that they get access to a hear­ing and that their case be reviewed by a judge.”

These kinds of raids should not be hap­pen­ing. It is unac­cept­able that these vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies would have to deal with some­thing like this,” Daly says. …

At 6 a.m. on March 18, agents pound­ed on Jose Luis Aguilar’s door. When he opened the door, agents forced their way in, accord­ing to a report filed by the Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee (AFSC), a nation­al civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion. The agents appar­ent­ly were try­ing to cap­ture an undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant with a crim­i­nal record named Juan Rios. The cur­rent res­i­dent, Aguilar, knew noth­ing about Rios.

Even though Aguilar was not the tar­get of their inves­ti­ga­tion and had no crim­i­nal record, agents ques­tioned him and his fam­i­ly about their immi­gra­tion sta­tus. They also ques­tioned his neigh­bors. In all, a dozen undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants were round­ed up although author­i­ties nev­er found Rios.

I nev­er thought this would hap­pen,” says Aguilar.

Yes, it can hap­pen on the streets, you are vul­ner­a­ble — but in your own house — no, not with­out hav­ing done anything.”

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