“[Y]ou have to remember that our job is not to judge.”
When Donald Trump took office in January, it appeared that Immigration And Customs Enforcement agents would be given the green light to ramp up enforcement. In many ways, they have done just that. But the policies enacted under Trump’s administration have also angered many ICE veterans, who now see their department as little more than a gang of witch hunters. Agents who were hired to adhere to the law, are now entitled by policy to indiscriminately target all immigrants, regardless of circumstance.
A veteran ICE agent spoke to the New Yorker about the negative impact these changes have had in his department. He makes no issue with the fact that his department exists to deport people, but he says that under the previous administrations, there was at least something resembling due process. “We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order,” the unnamed agent said, adding, “that’s out the window.”
The agent also said fellow agents are letting their personal biases guide their work: “[Y]ou have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.”
Recently, a new policy has come down the line, which allows agents to targets minors for arrest. Previously, these undocumented youths were allowed to stay in the care of families. Until now, the ICE agent had kept quiet over his growing frustrations with the department, but targeting children was too much for him. That’s why he’s decided to speak up.
Across a network of more than 200 migrant prisons and municipal migrant jails, the US government is detaining roughly 18,000 people at any given moment. And that’s not including the more than 12,000 minors who are held in other facilities under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s.
And amid this network of for-profit private prisons and government-ran detention centers, migrants are constantly being shuffled around – often without little notice to their lawyers and even family.
This time, the agency is accused of moving more than 700 women without notifying their lawyers, family, or anyone else.
According to attorneys from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), ICE has moved more than 700 women out of a Texas detention center. And ICE gave their lawyers zero way of locating them, which is especially damning considering many of the women face serious medical conditions.
Starting on Sept. 20, the women being held at the Karnes County Residential Center were sent to other centers around the country so that the facility could be used to detain families. More than two weeks later, their lawyers from RAICES have no idea where the majority of these women are being held, and they can’t find any updated information in ICE’s online detainee tracking system.
Many of these women have serious medical conditions and not being able to advocate for their health could have fatal consequences.
“I’m really fearful that their conditions could worsen,” Meza said. “I don’t want them to be in another ICE press release about death in detention.”
The situation highlights a common problem for migrants in ICE custody: They can be transferred between facilities with little notice and yet their new locations are not promptly updated in the system. If their existing lawyers and family members can’t find them, they may have to go through their cases without legal representation, especially in remote areas where legal counsel is sparse. And those with serious health issues could die if advocates who don’t know where their clients were transferred are unable to fight for their right to medical treatment.
According to ICE, advocates shouldn’t worry because “adequate medical care is being provided to all detainees.”
An ICE official told HuffPost that “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody” adding that staffing includes registered nurses, licensed mental health providers, a physician and access to 24-hour emergency care. The official acknowledged that the women at Karnes had been transferred to other facilities, but did not explain why their locations were not showing up in the online system.
But given the deaths that have occurred in ICE facilities and the overall cruelty towards people in their custody, few people trust ICE’s ability to care for migrants.
At Karnes, some of the immigrants were allegedly being denied lifesaving care, such as cancer and HIV treatment, and that suicidal patients were not receiving psychiatric counseling. One woman with cancer in her uterus said she had not received medical treatment for more than two months. Another immigrant, who is HIV positive, said she was not getting her medication or being evaluated by a doctor, even as her symptoms worsened.
The lack of medical care in immigrant detention facilities is well-established. Eight immigrants have died in ICE detention centers this year, and six minors have died in Border Patrol centers, in many cases because they didn’t receive proper medical help for their illnesses.
Technically there’s no legal requirement for ICE to inform detainees’ lawyers that they are being transferred.
According to Andrea Meza, Director of Family Detention Services for RAICES, ICE is not at all required to inform anyone when a detainee is transferred to a new location.
There is one exception: ICE is mandated to provide notice of transfer for Salvadorans, per the Orantes Settlement Agreement — but only Salvadorans.) Otherwise, Meza says, “There’s not really anything that requires them to give us notice as to where our clients are.”
But even if ICE did update the platform used to track migrants in their custody, lawyers said it’s rarely that reliable.
It can take up to a few weeks for someone who is transferred to a new facility to show up in the system, which means families are often left wondering whether their loved ones have been deported back to life-threatening situations in their home countries.
“I think FedEx does a better job of tracking its packages than ICE does of tracking the people it detains,” Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigrant rights attorney told HuffPo.
Of the women RAICES has been able to locate, some are being housed at a private prison in Mississippi that the Justice Department found so poorly-managed it issued a scathing 65-page report detailing its problems. The Federal Bureau of Prisons to ended its contract with the prison earlier this year, but now immigrant women are being sent there.
It seems like every week news breaks that their has been another death of someone in ICE’s custody or the agency is embroiled in some new scandal or cruel policy targeting migrants. One organization has finally had enough and is urging ICE employees to stage a mass exodus from organization.
Never Again Action is a group dedicated to preventing another holocaust and they have been very vocal in their attacks against ICE and the agency’s cruelty. Now, the group is taking their advocacy to the next level and is offering support to ICE employees who want to leave their roles and find different work.
Never Again Action is offering ICE employees dedicated, free career help if they quit their job at ICE.
An immigration advocacy group has launched a new website offering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement workers seeking to leave the embattled agency free and anonymous career support.
The Never Again Action group’s Atlanta branch launched the website, saying it wanted to put out the call for a “mass exodus and atonement” for ICE workers “as we approach Yom Kippur.”
With the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, taking place on Tuesday, the group said it was the perfect time for ICE workers to “quit your jobs.”
The organization claims they’ve already had one ICE employee seek their help in leaving their role with ICE.
According to Never Again Action, the immigration advocacy group that launched the service, at least one ICE agent has already come forward to ask for help quitting their job and finding a new one.
“We’ve already had one ICE agent reach out to us,” the group, which was organized by Jewish community members in the U.S. determined to “never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” said in a tweet on Monday.
The organization is moving to help avoid another holocaust by ridding the government organization of employees, according to their platform.
Branding the U.S.’s treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees an “atrocity,” the website tells ICE workers: “You don’t have to work for ICE. We will help you find a better job. You don’t have to be complicit in the atrocities happening at our nation’s border and within our immigration system,” it states.
“We know quitting your job isn’t always easy, so we’re offering FREE and CONFIDENTIAL job search support so you can find a better job,” the website continues, before outlining how it will help ICE workers change their career paths.
The organization also appears to be making good on its word to help agents do just that, setting up a career support website that will match ICE workers with a “qualified career adviser.”
While it makes clear that organizers cannot guarantee ICE workers a new job, their volunteer career advisers are “dedicated to supporting you through the job hunting process so you can quit your ICE job quickly.”
The organization is offering qualified career advisors with MBAs, professional career counseling, or professional recruiting experience. And, according to their website, ‘every advisor is dedicated to giving you the support you need to find a new, better job quickly.’
“We know it’s easy for protesters to chant ‘quit your job,’ but that it’s a lot easier said than done,” the website states. “We know you have bills to pay, and might have family members relying on your salary or health benefits. That’s why we’re providing this free and confidential service: to help you find a new and better job, so you can quit your ICE job as quickly as possible.”
In a statement, ICE expressed disappointment and disgust at the organization’s initiative.
ICE sent a statement to Newsweek, ICE Acting Press Secretary Bryan Cox struck out at the initiative, calling any attempt at “demonizing career law enforcement officials…disgraceful.”
“ICE holds its personnel to the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior, and ICE employees will continue to carry out their duties professionally regardless of irresponsible rhetoric that needlessly spreads fear and misinformation that does a disservice to the communities these groups claim to represent,” Cox said.
But many aren’t buying into that narrative and recognize the grave atrocities committed by ICE against migrants.
From workplace raids that left children alone and afraid to denying basic necessities to those already in their custody and even the deaths of dozens of people, ICE is in desperate need of reform. Even those who aren’t necessarily calling for abolishing ICE, recognize that there is a great need for major institutional reforms.
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