Activists to Host 'Deportation Defense Summit' to Counter ICE's 'Citizens Academy'

A coalition of organizations in Iowa are launching a virtual "Deportation Defense Summit" this month in response to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency's plans to launch a "Citizens Academy" focused on the agency's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) unit in neighboring Illinois in September.

In a press release shared with Newsweek, the group of organizations, including the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, the Cedar Rapids-based Black Lives Matter group, Advocates for Social Justice and United Electrical Workers Local 896, said the Deportation Defense Summit will be held on August 22, weeks ahead of ICE's Citizens Academy launch.

"ICE's 'Citizen's Academy' is a dangerous propaganda program targeting Brown, Black, and other communities of color during a time of national reckoning over racial profiling and police brutality," Advocates for Social Justice member Tamara Marcus said in a statement. "We invite all Iowans of conscience to join us on August 22 for a Deportation Defense Summit to protect refugee children and keep families together."

ICE's program, which is expected to run for six weeks starting on Tuesday, September 15, is not the first Citizens Academy to be run by the agency, but it is the first to focus on its controversial ERO unit, which oversees the arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

News of the program's launch sparked widespread outrage after a letter sent out to stakeholders by ICE Chicago Field Office Director Robert Guadian described the academy as offering "scenario-based" training in "defensive tactics, firearms familiarization and targeted arrests."

Since then, ICE has sought to clarify that the program will not teach citizens how to perform arrests themselves, but will provide insights into how ERO agents perform their duties.

In a statement sent to Newsweek after Guadian's letter came to light, ICE spokesperson Nicole Alberico said that "all federally-trained law enforcement officers go through such training and the Academy wants to show the community what this training looks like."

"Additionally," Alberico said, "ICE wants to show the humanitarian efforts and due process that is behind every targeted immigration arrest."

The Deportation Defense Summit, organizers said in their press release, will show a different side of ICE's ERO unit's arrests.

"ICE's Citizens Academy will train wannabe paramilitaries in racial profiling," claimed Juan Manuel Galvez Ibarra, an Iowa City Catholic Worker and publisher and editor of community outlet El Trueque, in a statement. "The Worker's Academy will teach the multiracial working-class the true meaning and methods of community self-defense, labor organizing, and collective action."

"Iowa's Hispanic community doesn't need any public relations spin from Homeland Security to know ICE is a dangerous threat to our families and neighborhoods," Galvez Ibarra said.

The Deportation Defense Summit is expected to feature a keynote speech by Jacinta Gonzales, from national immigrant power organization Mijente.

It will also "include victory stories, powerpoint presentations, and breakout groups led by directly-impacted immigrants, refugees, DACA recipients, international students and Black Lives Matter leaders," the coalition's press release said.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement building is seen in Washington, D.C. May 09, 2019. ICE is launching its Citizens Academy focused on its ERO unit in September. EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty