ICE Has Written a Letter to the American Public Saying It Knows the 'Emotional Impact' of Its Work, but Blaming Officers Is 'Unfair'

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency's unit responsible for apprehending and overseeing the deportation of migrants in the U.S. has issued a letter to the American public seeking to "set the record straight" on the work its officers do.

While the letter acknowledges the "real and emotional impact of immigration enforcement," it states that "casting aspersions about our officers' intentions only spreads fear in a community" in a way that is "unfair and without merit."

"Across the country, a national debate about current and future U.S. immigration policy is growing louder by the day," the letter published on ICE's website begins. "As field office directors for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), we oversee the offices that enforce immigration laws within the interior of the United States, and we want to set the record straight."

Noting that ICE's officers are "sworn federal law enforcement officers who enforce U.S. immigration laws created by Congress," the ERO field office directors behind the letter, who are not named, say it "greatly concerns us when advocacy groups, citizens and politicians share and support incorrect or misleading information about our mission that is a vital part of national security and public safety."

"These misconceptions may lead to violence, which places innocent bystanders, aliens and law enforcement officers in danger," the field office directors warn, pointing to two recent incidents in which two ICE facilities—the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, and the ERO Field Office in San Antonio, Texas—were the targets of "lawless gunfire."

The letter then goes on to try to address four of the "misconceptions" that the ERO chiefs believe have been wrongly shared and supported by citizens and politicians in the U.S.

'ICE does not conduct raids'

The first "misconception" that the ERO field office directors seek to address is the portrayal of ICE-targeted enforcement operations as "raids."

"ICE makes targeted arrests every day; ICE does not conduct 'raids'," the letter states.

This is, of course, not the first time that ICE has railed against the use of the word "raids" to describe ICE's enforcement actions.

In a July conference call with a number of news outlets, including Newsweek, Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence slammed the use of the word, saying it "does a disservice to everybody that's involved in this process."

"A raid brings up all sorts of emotions that conjures images of indiscriminate enforcement actions. That is not what we do," he said, insisting that reporters use the term "targeted enforcement actions" to describe ICE's sweeping arrests.

"ICE does not conduct raids or sweeps and does not operate roadblocks or checkpoints," the letter states. "The use of these terms evokes images of indiscriminate enforcement actions taken without probable cause."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," it claims. "ICE focuses its limited resources first and foremost by targeting those who pose the greatest threat to public safety and border security, and our officers make arrests every single day. ICE does not target aliens indiscriminately; the agency conducts investigations and gathers intelligence on specific individuals and targets them for immigration enforcement based solely on their violations of federal law."

"Targets are most frequently those who were previously arrested on criminal charges or have blatant disregard for U.S. immigration laws. The agency's arrest statistics clearly reflect this," the ERO field office directors write. "Nationally, approximately 90 percent of all people arrested by ICE during fiscal year 2019 either had a criminal conviction, a pending criminal charge, had illegally re-entered the United States after being previously removed (a felony charge) or were an immigration fugitive subject to a judge's final order of removal."

While it is true that ICE focuses on immigrants with "violations of federal law," included under that umbrella are countless people living undocumented in the country.

Meanwhile, in a comparison of ICE data from October 2016 through to June 2017 and the same period a year later (October 2017 to June 2018) the Associated Press found that ICE's arrest of noncriminals had increased by 66 percent, while arrests of criminals had increased only by 2 percent.

Meanwhile, in a comparison of ICE deportation data from the same periods, AP found that there was a 174 percent increase of deportations of people without criminal convictions, while deportations of those with convictions rose nearly 13 percent.

Despite that, ICE has maintained that its focus is on those who "pose the greatest threat to public safety and border security."

Does ICE need a warrant to make an arrest?

The second point that ICE's ERO field officer directors sought to make was that ICE does not need a warrant to make an arrest.

While they explained that "Section 287 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides ICE officers the authority to arrest aliens without a judicial warrant," what they did not explain is that the administrative warrants they employ in arrests do not possess the same power as a judicial warrant.

As many immigration advocacy groups have sought to explain, those targeted by ICE's administrative warrants are not obligated to open their doors to ICE agents.

Despite that, ERO's field office directors state that "obstructing or otherwise interfering with an ICE arrest is a crime, and anyone involved may be subject to prosecution under federal law."

"In addition, encouraging others to interfere or attempt to obstruct an arrest is extremely reckless and places all parties in jeopardy," they say.

'ICE officers treat detainees with dignity and respect'

The ERO field office directors also wished to combat the perception that its officers do not always treat detainees with "dignity and respect."

"ICE provides safe, humane and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals in its custody," they said.

"ICE has a series of detention standards that ensure that individuals with medical conditions or other specific needs receive exceptional care while in our custody, which exceed the standards of most local jails and prisons," they continued. "Individuals in our custody are also provided access to legal representation, translation services, recreation, and a multitude of other offerings."

While ICE agents and the agency's detention facilities are required to meet a specific set of standards, the agency has repeatedly come under fire for failing to do exactly that.

In some cases, ICE agents have been accused of using excessive force or questionable tactics to carry out an arrest, including one recent case in which a viral video showed an ICE agent smashing the car window of a family's vehicle while children were still inside. The agent then dragging their father out onto the ground after he refused to exit the vehicle.

Meanwhile, news of the recent death of a Mexican man held in ICE custody in Illinois, the eighth death in the agency's custody this year, has further fueled scrutiny over ICE's ability to care for inmates.

It is not only the public, however, that has expressed concerns over ICE's treatment of detainees.

In June, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General released a report specifically highlighting concerns about the treatment of detainees at four separate ICE detention facilities.

In its report, the DHS watchdog detailed how ICE had failed to meet government standards for housing migrant detainees at the four facilities, which included the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey and the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado, all of which are privately operated.

At two of the facilities—Adelanto and the Essex County Correctional Facility—the report said investigators found "immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards," including "nooses in detainee cells" and "inadequate medical care."

Meanwhile, "all four facilities had issues with expired food, which puts detainees at risk for food-borne illnesses," while two struggled with "food handling" issues that presented "health and food safety risks," the DHS OIG said.

In addition to the above concerns, the Inspector General's office also found that, at three of the facilities, "segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights," while two of the facilities failed to provide recreation outside detainee housing units.

Overall, the report said ICE would need to make changes at its facilities to ensure that detainees' rights were being protected, which the agency agreed to do.

'ICE officers are aware of the real and emotional impact of immigration enforcement'

In their fourth and final point, the coalition of ERO field office directors behind the letter acknowledge that ICE officers are "aware of the real and emotional impact of immigration enforcement."

"The immediate and extreme impact an immigration enforcement action has on an individual and their family is not lost on our officers," they say.

However, the ERO field office chiefs state: "These ICE officers and their families live and shop, as well as attend schools and places of worship in the same communities. Casting aspersions about our officers' intentions only spreads fear in a community; this is unfair and without merit."

"Our officers do their jobs professionally, humanely, and treat those they encounter with dignity and respect," they assert. "It is unconscionable when those who have ideological or political beliefs that differ from the law, misdirect their attacks on ICE officers who are charged with upholding laws Congress has passed."

Abolish ICE poster
Demonstrators march through downtown calling for the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on August 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Field office directors with ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations unit have penned a letter saying the backlash ICE officers have faced over their enforcement actions is 'unfair'. Scott Olson/Getty