New York

New Toolkit Helps Immigrants Fight Back In Era of ‘No Limits’ Deportations

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In just over a week, Donald Trump will become president, and his promise to deport even more immigrants from the country will begin to become our reality. While his presidency offers a terrifying new threat to the immigrant community, the deportation apparatus that Trump is inheriting is one that is already incredibly pervasive, well-funded, and efficient — in the past fifteen years, the U.S. has deported 5 million people, which is almost twice as much as the past 110 years combined. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whose task it is to arrest immigrants that might be subject to deportation, lies to immigrants, misleads them, and forces their way into their homes, seeking to fill a congressionally-mandated bed quota that puts all immigrants at risk.

The dangers that the immigrant community faces are myriad, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t learned some valuable lessons over the past fifteen years. To that end, two groups, the Immigrant Defense Project and the Center for Constitutional Rights, have come together to create a “toolkit” to help immigrant communities defend themselves from ICE, as well as learn more about where ICE has derived its power, and what exactly it’s allowed to do.

Over 200 pages long, the toolkit stemmed from a FOIA request made by CCR and IDP back in late 2014, which sought information and documents about how ICE instructs its officers to conduct their raids.

“We wanted the documents to inform the public on the scope of the home raids and its impact on public safety,” explained Genia Blaser, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Defense Project. “In conjunction with the FOIA, IDP began to monitor more extensively reports of home raids in the New York City area.”

Included in the toolkit are over 200 stories of individuals who have had their homes raided, stories filled with ICE agents misleading immigrants or using serious and unwarranted amounts of force while making arrests. In several instances, ICE officers misled people into believing they were helping correct a case of mistaken identity.

From the report:

In October 2016, ICE agents went to a two-story multi-family Queens, NY home before 6am. They knocked on the door of ASAK’s downstairs neighbor who denied them entry without a warrant. So, the agents kept banging until ASAK’s wife woke up and came out to speak with them. She explained that ASAK was out walking the dog and stopping at the store, but they kept pressing her on whether he was inside. They showed her a picture of a black man with dreadlocks and asked if she knew him or thought her husband might know him. When she said she did not know the person, they asked for the name of the store where ASAK was and for his phone number. She gave them his number and 2 officers said they were going to walk up the block to see him. They approached ASAK, asking about the dog. Then, a number of officers ran up and detained him. They would not let ASAK’s wife walk outside and minutes later, they handed her the dog and said they were taking him in. She asked if they could tell her what was going on. They said no, that they were from immigration and ASAK would call her later. 

“There are memos included in the toolkit that have been issued by DHS, acknowledging the use of ruses by ICE officers in enforcement action,” Blaser told the Voice. “There are virtually no limits to the methods they can use. These memos are now over a decade old and they haven’t been updated. These are the instructions that the officers are receiving, essentially giving them the kitchen sink in terms of what they can do while making an arrest.”

In a memo dated August 22nd, 2006, then-director of investigations at ICE, Marcy M. Forman, told officers that “the use of ruses in law enforcement operations is an effective law enforcement tool that enhances officer safety.” It cautions officers to not pretend to be health or safety agencies, but beyond that, leaves almost everything on the table.

Also included in the documents are presentations ICE gives to its officers, explaining how to mine public records to locate immigrants, including how to mine the FBI’s fingerprint database of anyone who’s been arrested in the United States. New York City, for example, fingerprints anyone it arrests, making its immigrant community especially vulnerable to detection by ICE, even if they’re never even charged with a crime.

“Part of the challenge in doing this work is that for many years there’s been an increasing normalization of the criminalization of immigrants more broadly,” said Michael Velarde the development & communications manager at IDP. “We think it’s important that the general public understands that when there are calls for mass deportation and detention, what that actually means for people. Highlighting these abuses helps combat this normalization.”

The toolkit takes readers step-by-step through which tactics ICE employs (with a particular focus on home raids), who ICE targets, where and how ICE locates people in their communities, and what people can do to protect themselves from possible raids. It also includes sections on “What we might see under the Trump administration,” which includes the return of workplace raids (popular under the Bush administration), as well as the expansion of the use of databases (including gang databases, which the NYPD has been more than eager to expand).

IDP and CCR plans to release even more documents from its FOIA request, as well as create an interactive map to highlight just how common home raids have been in New York City during the Obama administration.

“This toolkit addresses the ongoing need as a result of the nature of the current system, but as we started seeing more threats from Trump and a broader conversation being had on immigrants, we knew that this resource would be very valuable to have out within the first 100 days of the administration,” Velarde told the Voice. Since the election, IDP has seen a huge increase in people interested in supporting immigrants. “Part of the narrative has been fixated on the concern and the worry of the Trump administration, but that has triggered a huge wave of interest from people who have very limited experience with human rights and social justice issues more broadly, who really want to get involved. A key audience for this toolkit is to help people understand the system, how it operates, and what they can do to change things.”

The toolkit is available for download here.

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