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Demonstrators march through downtown Chicago on August 16, 2018, to call for the abolition of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the defunding of local police. Scott Olson/Getty Images 
Demonstrators march through downtown Chicago on August 16, 2018, to call for the abolition of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the defunding of local police. Scott Olson/Getty Images 

New report says ICE is targeting immigrant advocacy groups with retaliation and surveillance

 New report details government surveillance and retaliation against immigrant organizers in the U.S.

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A new report details allegations of nationwide retaliation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and now immigrant advocacy groups and organizers are calling on the Biden administration to act. 

The report, prepared by the University of Washington School of Law Immigration Clinic, and nationwide organizers found that federal officials are regularly engaged in a “sustained campaign of ICE surveillance and repression against advocacy groups and activists.”

It cited a compilation of interviews, court filings and documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and documents a myriad of allegations of instances of retaliation and surveillance across the country, where immigrant rights activists say they experienced intimidation, targeting, and in some cases, deportation for their prevalence in advocacy circles. 

In these cases, ICE agents followed, photographed, and monitored the social media activity of activists who engaged in protests or other public advocacy, sometimes in violation of state law. 

ICE agents launched immigration raids, explicitly targeting these individuals. Agents placed individuals into deportation proceedings, and in one instance, arrested 20 members of an immigrant rights organization following the organization’s attempts to sever the ties between local police and ICE.

The findings of the report are troubling, not only for immigrant rights groups but also for the people they are advocating for. ICE’s actions suggest that the federal government is openly using its power to retaliate against these communities. 

It raises serious concerns that ICE is punishing individuals for First Amendment-protected activities. 

The report documents retaliation committed against individuals associated with five immigrant rights groups: Grassroots Leadership, Organized Communities Against Deportations, Comunidad Colectiva, La Resistencia, and Migrant Justice. 
 

"This pattern of retaliation is not about a few ICE agents scattered across the country," Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign organizer at Mijente told AL DÍA. “It makes a mockery of our First Amendment if activists can be surveilled, jailed, and deported for nothing more than protesting abuse carried out by the government.”

She added that the Biden administration should ban this sort of retaliation within its upcoming enforcement memo for ICE.  

“It is imperative that the Secretary of Homeland Security do so and issue guidelines forbidding this targeted harassment of activists.”
 

Despite the danger of organizing against ICE, especially for those who are undocumented, advocacy groups have made it clear they are not going to stop.

“Our work is to make public all the brutality of the immigration detention system,” Maru Mora Villalpando of La Resistencia said in a statement. “ICE retaliation only made us stronger and more committed to continue our work to end all detentions and deportations.”

While DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said that retaliation by ICE is “unacceptable” in the past, activists say there still continues to be substantial reason for concern of retaliation and surveillance. 

It’s why they’re calling on the Biden administration to intervene. 

"These cases show that retaliation is systemic, so the administration must take immediate action to stop it. Following people to meetings, scouring their social media accounts, arresting their friends and family — this is harassment and abuse, actions totally unacceptable for a government agency,” Gónzalez said. 

With the upcoming enforcement memo for ICE, the administration has the opportunity to institute and advocate for a range of policy interventions to protect advocates, and address the harmful effects of ICE’s tactics. But will it? Those tactics include exercising “prosecutorial discretion in favor of civil, labor, and human rights organizers and activists.” 

The report’s authors also offer several policy recommendations for the administration to consider, from bringing home immigrant activists and organizers who have been targeted and deported  because of their affiliation with advocacy work, to ending 

mass surveillance of immigration activists, organizers and protests in general.

“DHS has used intrusive modern technological tools and boots on the ground to engage in widespread surveillance of immigrant activists, immigrant-led organizations, and protests across the country,” the report reads. 

The complete list of recommendations listed in the report can be found here

The goal, the report says, is to “re-envision” the immigration system in its current form, away from treating it as an extension of the criminal justice system. 

To “abolish the immigration enforcement agencies,” in other words, ICE, is the long-term goal for these groups, and they maintain that the pattern of surveillance and retaliation detailed in the report merits the call for abolition. 

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