Five Things the ‘Safe City’ Raids Can Teach Us About the New Era of Enforcement




October 3, 2017

Last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released information that they had detained 450 people across the country in cities and counties that have restrictions on the participation of local police in immigration enforcement, or so-called “Sanctuary” cities.

Although this was not the 10K person mass raid that community members were warned about a few weeks ago, there are five elements we thought important to highlight that show us that we are in a new era of enforcement that requires us to track emerging tactics and technologies and have with solid and innovative response. And in an era where any contact with local law enforcement becomes an opportunity to detain, deport, and incarcerate, highlighting the role of local governments in creating real sanctuaries and pushing back against criminalization is key.

As we figure out what those responses are, here are five things that we should  be paying attention to in responding to Operation ‘Safe City’ and any that follow:

  1. This is what mass raids look like. We don’t have to wait for a 10,000 person raid to be announced in order to sound the alarm. This is what a raid and the propaganda that follows it looks like. The numbers and regions will vary, but ICE will always say the people they detained are dangerous and emphasize the stories that reinforce that narrative. But a raid like ‘Safe City’ is no less dangerous to members of our communities — including those who have been criminalized by local law enforcement or those who may not have been on the target list but are still detained as ‘collateral.’
  2. Everyone is a priority, everyone is a criminal. In their press communications ICE officials wrote that the raid “targeted individuals who have violated U.S. immigration laws, prioritizing aliens with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, known gang members and affiliates, immigration fugitives and those who re-entered the U.S. after deportation. Individuals with active DACA were not targeted for arrest.” Read this paragraph carefully, because (i) it names that the target of the operation is people who have violated immigration law — aka every undocumented immigrant except people with DACA, (ii) it includes people with pending criminal charges, making it so that there is no due process or judicial review of people’s charges before they get targeted for deportation, making a person’s deportation literally up to a local police officer, and (iii) including everyone with any sort of criminal conviction. That’s a lot of people.
  3. Sanctuary cities are contributing data to inform the ICE raids. This raid is part of an on-going attack on any municipality that places some restrictions in the participation of local law enforcement with immigration enforcement. Although most cities that have been labeled ‘Sanctuary’ jurisdictions have defended their existing policies and their right to protect immigrants, they contribute by sharing information such as the names and police records of individuals suspected to be gang members. In the City of Chicago, for example, there is a  city-wide campaign to get an immigrant father, whose home was raided by ICE, off the Chicago Gang Database. Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez and his family are suing the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Officers who put him in the database for their responsibility in the immigration raid that led to his detention. Attacks on sanctuary cities will more and more look like this.
  4. ICE has been expanding their ability to process data and spy on people, information that they use to target individuals during immigration raids. The Federal Government has invested billions of dollars in private companies to collect and process information to make the lists of people to target in these raids. The information includes fingerprints, suspected gang affiliation, people’s criminal and immigration records, DNA, and social media information. This is the data that is used during immigration raids, such as ‘Safe City.’
  5. Look out for aggressive prosecution of people in these raids for immigration related crimes in federal court. People who are picked up in these raids are also potentially facing a felony and a long time in jail before deportation. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is partnering with the Sessions Department of Justice to bring additional charges and years in federal prison for many of the people arrested as part of immigration operations. This is part of a broader effort to increase incarceration of immigrants. We don’t know yet how many people will be prosecuted as part of Operation “Safe City”, but paying attention to this will help us track how immigration enforcement is taking place and find more effective ways to respond.

Keeping these five perspectives in mind as we continue to figure ways to effectively defend our communities and fight back against these raids, can help us important to track how immigration agents are conducting operations, identify new tactics and trends, and pay attention to the relationships between law enforcement and the different government agencies at work.

Tania Unzueta is the Policy Director at Mijente. Jacinta Gonzalez is the Field Director at Mijente.