In April U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton met with community groups in Detroit, promising to investigate reports of racial profiling and abuse by agents in the Detroit field office and issue a report within 30 days. This deadline has now passed with no indication as to when or how the agency will formally respond to concerns about unjust and violent immigration enforcement practices.
The promise by Director Morton came after immigrants rights groups and local leaders publicized recent incidents in which ICE agents triggered panic by following parents as they dropped off and picked up their kids at Hope of Detroit Academy and Neinas Elementary School in predominately Latino Southwest Detroit.
According to Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform Michigan director Ryan Bates, on the morning of March 31 ICE agents detained Jose Maldonado Plasencia a block away from Hope of Detroit Academy where he had dropped off his child, though the agency had not obtained prior authorization for performing enforcement at a school.
Later that morning agents in SUVs and sedans with tinted windows followed two other families from their homes to the school and surrounded the school and playground after the families took refuge in the school.
Parents and children began to panic and the school received many phone calls from parents worried about the safety of their children, he said.
Bates said that when he intervened at the school and asked whether the agents had a warrant, the agents acknowledged that they did not and left in a convoy of five or six vehicles. Weeks after the incident school attendance remained low because parents were afraid to bring their kids to school.
The incident at Hope of Detroit Academy is part of a pattern of Detroit area ICE agent behavior that has included warrantless searches, a mother strip searched in front of her son, detainees,,including a pregnant woman, denied needed medicines in jail, an immigrant shoved through a wall by agents and harassment of American citizens, according to immigrants rights advocates.
Bates said that while the deadline for the 30 day investigation has expired, the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility has been investigating the incident at the school and has interviewed victims across the state.
“While we are glad that the review is underway, we want to make sure that those investigations are completed as soon as possible,” he said. “The people of Michigan and Detroit deserve answers about what happened at Hope of Detroit Academy and why there is this pattern of abuse in the Detroit field office.”
Bates said that the ICE actions at schools violate the agency policy against conducting enforcement at sensitive community locations.
“It is clear that the leadership at the Detroit ICE office is either unwilling or unable to comply with current policy,“ Bates said. “This needs to lead to accountability.”
“We want to know who approved the operation, what was their rationale, and if no one approved the operation then clearly there is a break down in management command and control,” he said.
“This isn’t a matter of one operation gone awry this is a matter of an entire field office demonstrating a widespread pattern of abuse.”
Hispanic Bar Association president Lawrence Garcia participated in the April 15 meeting where Morton promised a 30-day investigation and he said he remains optimistic that the agency will deliver the promised investigation.
“You might call me an eternal optimist. I do think that ICE is taking our concerns seriously and doing a workman like investigation, it just seems to be taking longer than they estimated,” he said. “We are not going to drop the issue.
Garcia said that Southwest Detroit’s large minority population makes it a hunting ground for immigration enforcement activities and that racial profiling and strong arming is a problem in immigration enforcement nationwide.
“Whenever ICE needs to show some resolve, rounding up people in Southwest Detroit is just too convenient of a way to that,” he said.
“The dangers that lead to people being out of control are just endemic to the enterprise. It is hard to ask people to find immigrants and not run the risk of racial profiling or violations.”
ICE did not give a status report on the investigation or explain why the matter is taking longer than expected.
“We continue to work with local community advocates to address their concerns regarding immigration enforcement in Detroit,“ ICE Spokesman Khaalid Walls said. “Additionally, the ICE internal review is ongoing.”
It appears that ICE is reworking its policies as a result of complaints from the Detroit area.
According to a draft enforcement memo obtained by Michigan Messenger, ICE plans to elaborate on its policy for enforcement in sensitive locations.
The new draft policy more clearly defines the types of activities covered by the policy and includes more sensitive locations including “site of a public demonstration, march or parade.”
It also states:
“This is not an exclusive list, and ICE officers and agents shall consult with their supervisors if the location of a planned enforcement operation is likely to be viewed as sensitive in a particular community. Extra care should be taken when assessing whether an enforcement action may affect a sensitive location, and ICE employees should err on the side of caution. For example, particular care should be exercised with any public location serving children, pregnant women, victims of crime or abuse, or individuals with significant mental or physical disabilities.”
According to the memo the proposed new rules would also apply to “enforcement actions at or focused on a sensitive location which are part of a joint case led by another law enforcement agency.”
Bates, who is familiar with the memo (but did not provide it to Michigan Messenger out of respect for ICE internal process), said that the new draft policy is a welcome improvement but not a sufficient response to violations by ICE agents.
“[T]he fundamental problem is one of behavior, not policy alone,” he said. “ICE’s existing policies were violated during the Hope of Detroit Academy incident, and there must be accountability for the leadership that allowed ICE agents to surround an elementary school.”