On Monday 27 June 2022, 51 people believed to be migrants were found dead and at least a dozen others were hospitalised after being found inside an abandoned tractor-trailer rig on a remote back road in San Antonio, Texas. The tragic discovery proved to be the deadliest among thousands of people who have died attempting to cross the US border from Mexico in recent decades.
Now, a police officer has revealed to The Texas Tribune that the bodies had been “sprinkled in steak seasoning.” The same official also explained that the refrigeration unit inside the truck was broken—which resulted in extreme levels of heat.
Police seem to think that the bodies had been peppered with steak seasoning “in perhaps an attempt to cover up the smell of people as the smugglers were transporting them.”
At the time of the discovery, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood revealed just how horrific it was, “We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there,” he said. “None of us come to work imagining that.”
The truck’s door was open and a body was located outside, but Hood said the survivors found inside had no water and were too weak to exit the vehicle on their own.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus described the case as the deadliest human smuggling incident he has ever seen. He further revealed to reporters that authorities are not confident that all of the people who suffered in the truck have been found so far, as some may have had enough strength to try and flee before emergency crews arrived.
President Joe Biden issued a statement Tuesday pledging to “continue to do everything possible to stop” smugglers who work to sneak people into the US without permission in exchange for pay, often with deadly results. “This incident underscores the need to go after the multibillion-dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and leading to far too many innocent deaths,” the President’s statement continued.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced an upcoming ‘Citizens Academy’ that would familiarise a select group of Americans with the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and provide training on how to identify and detain undocumented immigrants.
The course, set to begin on 15 September, will be carried out by the ICE Chicago Field Office and serve as a pilot for a nationwide programme.
For six weeks, civilian attendees will receive “scenario based training” and “hear directly from ERO officers and learn about ICE policies and procedures,” the agency said in a statement. Among other features, the course will include “classroom instruction, visiting an immigration detention center, learning more about the health care ICE provides to those in its custody, and examining ICE’s role in ensuring dignity, respect and due process of an immigration case from start to finish.”
The agency claims that the Academy’s purpose is to give the community an opportunity to “get to know our officers, understand our mission, and see firsthand how the agency enforces the federal immigration laws enacted by Congress.”
“The Citizens Academy also affords ICE the opportunity to hear from participants, understand their perspectives and debunk myths,” the statement reads.
But this Kumbaya rhetoric surrounding the academy and its objectives falsely portray the mandate and conduct of an immigration agency that repeatedly engages in atrocious human rights violations and sows terror in immigrant communities. It also obscures the dire consequences that such a course could have on American society, whether intentionally or unintentionally (most likely the former, though).
In a statement for Newsweek, ICE spokesperson Nicole Alberico said that “ICE is not training anyone to do immigration enforcement.” This is hard to believe, however, seeing as the course curriculum includes training in “defensive tactics, firearms familiarization and targeted arrests.”
Such a programme would undoubtedly instil a sense of solidarity with ICE’s mission among individuals holding anti-immigration or racist stances and might inspire attendees with a propensity for vigilantism to take up arms (which is totally legal in the US) and act as de facto immigration enforcement agents.
Alberico further told Newsweek that “ICE wants to show the humanitarian efforts and due process that is behind every targeted immigration arrest,”—a cringe-worthy comment that attests to the lack of transparency surrounding the Academy and its mission. Since the agency’s inception in 2003, mountains of evidence and testimonies have exposed the public to ICE’s violent raids and arrests, the terror it inspires in vulnerable communities, the racist agendas it promotes, its brutal separation of families, and its imprisonment of people under inhumane conditions that resulted in the deaths of numerous detainees—including children. The attempt of the agency to mask its conduct under a banner of humanitarianism amounts to nothing short of deception.
Let’s also consider the timing of the agency’s announcement. As the nation is rattled by widespread public protests against police brutality and systemic racism, ICE opted to embark on a fallacious PR campaign through a programme that seeks to glorify state-sanctioned violence and would exacerbate racial profiling and attacks on black and brown people.
“The Citizens Academy program will train citizens to perpetuate race-based violence and further normalizes hate crimes that already devastate our neighborhoods,” said Sara John, executive director of IFCLA, in a statement shared with Newsweek. “Our tax dollars should not be spent on this hatred. Especially not when a global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our communities. This blatant endorsement of white supremacy coded in a false display of patriotism seeks to excuse racial profiling and will only lead to increased violence, hatred and xenophobia in our communities.”
While the Citizens Academy will be the agency’s first course focusing specifically on ERO, it isn’t the first outreach programme conducted by ICE. Back in 2012, under former President Barack Obama, ICE launched a ‘Citizens’ Academy’ that provided “members of the general public with an inside look at ICE and how the agency enforces immigration and customs laws.” The whitewashing of ICE’s conduct and the sanctioning of its brutality may have intensified under Trump, but had begun long before he took office.
Just last week, ICE announced that it would revoke the visas of over a million foreign students whose universities switched to online-only learning due to COVID-19. The public outrage that erupted immediately following the announcement, as well as a lawsuit against ICE filed by Harvard and MIT, resulted in the administration abandoning the policy.
Public pressure works, and if enough people speak out against the Citizens Academy, it will be possible to nip this racist, anti-immigration propaganda tool in the bud.