by Kari Burns
Since 2017, ICE has escalated its use of deceptive ruses in which agents use false pretenses to make arrests. ICE agents are formally trained in utilizing ruses to impersonate police and other organizations in their attempts to locate targeted members of the immigrant community. Although this has been an official tactic since 2005, there has been a significant increase in these underhanded activities under the Trump administration. Not only does this conduct violate fourth amendment rights, it undermines trust in police and local governments. Because immigration law violations are civil infractions rather than criminal ones, in most cases, ICE officers cannot obtain warrants to pursue arrests (Dickerson, nytimes.com).
A common practice involves contacting persons under the guise of investigating a crime or locating a victim of identity theft, in order to gain voluntary consent to enter a residence and identify a target.
As stated in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Fugitive Operations Handbook, “Ruses can run the gamut from announcing that you are with DRO [Detention and Removal Operations] and looking for a person other than the target to adopting the guise of another agency (federal, state or local) or that of a private entity”. This dictum provides officers enormous leeway in their attempts to target individuals. A common practice involves contacting persons under the guise of investigating a crime or locating a victim of identity theft, in order to gain voluntary consent to enter a residence and identify a target. In a particularly heinous example of impersonation ruses, Sanctuary DMV tweeted on March 18 that a man who had been living in his community for 20 years was detained after ICE agents gained access to the home by pretending to be doctors. According to the Operations Handbook, “The use of ruses involving misrepresentation as a religious worker, health and safety worker/inspector, or census takers is prohibited without approval from the ICE Assistant Secretary” (my emphasis). If approval is granted, officers can incorporate into their ruses ever more innocuous or trusted institutions.
In order to defend these flagrant privacy violations and nurture public complacency, immigrants are portrayed as criminals...
ICE agents also employ ruses when conducting surveillance, often pretending to be police investigating fake crimes in order to interview coworkers, employers, neighbors, family and friends. According to the ACLU, sophisticated surveillance techniques have also increased during the “Trump Administration’s hyper-aggressive approach to immigration enforcement” such as the use of “Stingrays,” or cell site simulators, that mimic a real cell tower and ensnare cell phone communication of both alleged suspects and bystanders. In order to defend these flagrant privacy violations and nurture public complacency, immigrants are portrayed as criminals, undeserving of basic human rights, an idea entrenched in the historic and fundamentally false premise of the notion of criminality itself, conflated with race since the birth of the nation.
“ICE’s practices do not further public safety and, in fact, make our communities less safe. By impersonating police and purporting to investigate fictitious crimes, ICE officers cause panic in the community and sow distrust of law enforcement generally.”
On April 16, the ACLU of Southern California, along with the UC Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic and a private law firm, filed Kidd v. Wolf, a class-action lawsuit to force ICE agents to stop using impersonation tactics that violate fourth-amendment rights and other unlawful practices during home arrests. The complaint states: “In the face of community members’ growing determination to exercise their constitutional rights, ICE officers have resorted to deception and other illegal tactics to circumvent the Constitution’s fundamental protections of the home.” Citing unlawful trespassing on community members’ porches and other private areas, the lawsuit highlights the invasive practices that have become more prevalent under the current administration. Moreover, “ICE’s practices do not further public safety and, in fact, make our communities less safe. By impersonating police and purporting to investigate fictitious crimes, ICE officers cause panic in the community and sow distrust of law enforcement generally.” The complaint cites that observing recent shelter in place orders makes residents increasingly vulnerable to unconstitutional searches and arrests.
Immigration policy in recent years has relied heavily upon fear, intimidation and ulterior motives. Portraying refugees as criminals using inflammatory rhetoric has fomented misinformation and suspicion in communities, impeding public dissent against these unethical and immoral policies. During a crisis such as the one we are facing, which both isolates and distracts, vulnerable populations are in danger now more than ever of slipping through the cracks.
Karilea Burns got her Master’s in Literature from the University of Colorado at Denver. She studied social justice as an undergraduate, and is pursuing a career in social work with Boulder County Family and Child Services.