October 5, 2017

ICE worked hard to support Trump's immigrant myths

Intercept - A heavily redacted cache of emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by students at Vanderbilt University Law School and published exclusively by The Intercept, reveals how in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, ICE agents in Austin scrambled — and largely failed — to engineer a narrative that would substantiate the administration’s claims that the raids were motivated by public safety concerns. Instead, the emails detail the evolution of ICE’s public statements once it became obvious that the Trump administration’s narrative was not true.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil rights group, said the emails show just “how aggressive and desperate and duplicitous ICE was during these raids.”

“Essentially this is ICE trying to gin up a case for its actions, when really this isn’t at all about public safety,” he told The Intercept after reviewing the correspondence. “We can thoroughly expect that’s what they’re going to try to do again.”

ICE declined to comment for this article.

...At first, immigration officials said they were targeting public safety threats, such as individuals with criminal convictions and gang members. But while they sought to depict those swept up in the raids as dangerous criminals, it immediately became clear that many had only minor violations on their record, and that dozens had no criminal record at all. In Austin, where 51 people were arrested during the February raids, more than half had no criminal convictions. Many of those who did have criminal records were found guilty of drunken driving.

Within hours, stories of ICE’s aggressive tactics dominated the media, as Austin residents reported that agents had set up checkpoints on the street, detained a teenager, and mistakenly apprehended a legal resident with no criminal history as he dropped his kids off at school. As anxiety over the raids escalated, elected officials issued public condemnations, and local and national reporters inundated the agency’s Texas offices with requests for comment.

In their first media responses, ICE officials maintained the line that the raids were in the public interest, telling reporters that “by removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety.”

As criticism escalated, ICE shifted to downplaying the operation as “no different than the routine,” telling reporters that the raids were the same “targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” and suggesting off the record that claims to the opposite were “false, dangerous, and irresponsible.” As it became clear that dozens of individuals with no criminal history had been apprehended, ICE shifted gears and told reporters that in addition to targeting safety threats, the raids were always meant to target those whose only crimes were immigration-related, like re-entering the U.S. after deportation: “The president has been clear in saying that DHS should be focused on removing individuals who pose a threat to public safety, who have been charged with criminal offenses, who have committed multiple immigration violations or who have been deported and re-entered the country illegally.”

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