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.