Almost imperceptible has been the coverage of the creation of a euphemistically-named “pilot course,” announced by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Chicago, IL, which is part of the office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).
According to what we know so far, the course will begin this coming September in Chicago, which is considered a sanctuary city, and be based on the concept of a “Citizens Academy,” so that interested people who sign up will learn firsthand and from the beginning how ICE works, including particularly the arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants. Supposedly Los Angeles has done this in the past.
So, on top of the teaching of self-defense tactics, they promise familiarization with weapons and focusing on who to detain.
What’s more, this way of attracting citizens’ attention to add to their knowledge about immigration workings has no goal other than to spark interest from among the most anti-immigrant sector of the U.S.
From what we have been able to find out, immigration authorities sent letters to citizens inviting them to participate in this type of “Arrest and Deport Academy.” Different outlets have published part of this letter, underlying the following: “You have been identified as a valued member of the community who may have interest in participating in the inaugural class of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Chicago Citizens Academy.”
This invitation is frankly out of context since, in addition to the fact that an official institution such as ICE is already paid with taxpayer dollars to carry out this work, their functions are widely understood, for bad and for worse, making it necessary to also invite the citizenry to understand the tactics that made this agency the least qualified among all arms of government.
In fact, last year the Pew Research Center presented the results of a public opinion survey about how the American people see their government entities, placing ICE in the last position with 54% disapproval, compared to the Postal Service, which was first place with 90% approval.
What’s more, this way of attracting citizens’ attention to add to their knowledge about immigration workings has no goal other than to spark interest from among the most anti-immigrant sector of the U.S. population, during a moment in which intimidation, raids, insults for speaking a language other than English, racial profiling, xenophobia, white supremacy, and official attacks on DACA and TPS have closed in on the most vulnerable of immigrants, who have literally lived these last few years in a state of permanent anxiety and persecution.
Beyond the official justifications of the “benefits” of a course like this—basically to find out how these agents work and “sensitize” the participants to their duties— the veiled message sent by the current government and its immigration authorities is that they will do everything possible to reinforce and amplify this intimidation tactic. To that end, they will use society itself, with the goal of justifying a job that has provoked much collateral damage after focusing on undocumented immigrants who were formerly not a priority for deportation.
This becomes even clearer when we explore the key questions: What will the people who take this course do with the knowledge they have acquired? Will they go back home and continue along with their personal business like nothing happened, as if they had learned nothing? How will they react upon learning that some of their life-long neighbors are undocumented? Who will they call immediately to put into practice what they learned?
Because if you sensitize people about the work that the “poor” immigration agents do, it would also be good to invite those who most reject immigrants to also take a course in the homes of undocumented immigrants, to realize the reality that is staring them in the face but that they have not wanted to understand, rather rejecting it out of hand.
One of the first public figures to repudiate this type of course has been the one and only mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who was very clear in her Twitter account: “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.”
Essentially, they could be creating a type of “vigilante militia” likely to satisfy their most anti-immigrant desires, now that they will be officially emboldened and “educated” with the very tools of a persecutor.
David Torres is a Spanish-language Advisor at America’s Voice.
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