ICE Hits “Sanctuary Cities” with Increased Surveillance

ICE has begun 24-hour surveillance of undocumented immigrants in ‘sanctuary cities’ in an effort to make arrests where law enforcement agencies are not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement. It plans on sending out hundreds of unmarked cars in the next few weeks, requesting 500 special agents to join the “enhanced arrest” campaign. These 500 agents, who would otherwise be investigating dangerous criminals and traffickers, have been pulled from their cases to assist.

Last month, it was publicized that ICE had started using elite BORTAC agents—essentially immigration SWAT teams—to arrest undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities. As many as 100 BORTAC agents were deployed in sanctuary cities. The enhanced arrest operation is the latest development in a growing conflict between the Trump administration and cities that have refused to allocate law enforcement resources to deport undocumented residents, or have refused to turn over anyone in jail who is undocumented.

These cities include:

  • Boston
  • New York
  • Detroit
  • Chicago
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Atlanta
  • New Orleans
  • Newark

The initiative is currently called “Operation Palladium” and will continue until December 31, 2020. The overall aim of the campaign is to “arrest as many undocumented immigrants as possible,” and to “flood the streets,” as one ICE official allegedly said. Because immigration law violations are civil violations (not criminal), immigration enforcement usually cannot get warrants to forcibly enter someone’s home. As a result, they have relied on knocking on doors and using surveillance to arrest people when they leave their home or workplace.

However, knocking on doors has proven less effective as immigrants and their advocates have advised not answering the door to officers who don’t have warrants. Now, ICE is having officers do up to 12 hours of surveillance a day for as long as 10 days in a row. Advocates have reported other aggressive tactics, such as holding weapons or claiming to be police officers.

ICE officers and local law enforcement raided two homes in Cedar Rapids (not a sanctuary city) last week, arresting three young Guatemalan men. An ICE official familiar with Operation Palladium said enforcement was designed to avoid national media coverage by taking place in spurts, and because they didn’t want people hiding in their homes for days or weeks.

“I question the level of effectiveness other than scaring people,” said Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago. Another ICE official said that agents were targeting individuals who were let go by police officers due to sanctuary city policies. However, the majority of arrests were “collateral,” or arrests of individuals who were not targeted by the campaign but happened to be present at the time.

Increased Activity at Homes & Workplaces

New York’s Immigration Defense Project, an immigrant advocacy group, receives reports of ICE activity. In January and February, it received 80 reports of ICE actions. While this was a similar number to last year’s figures, those incidents took place in courthouses—this year, it’s taking place mostly at workplaces and homes. There have also been increased reports of ICE agents using ruses to obtain information or gain entry to people’s homes.

On top of regular ICE agents and BORTAC agents aiding with the arrest campaign, between 500 and 600 investigators have been pulled from investigating human and drug-smuggling rings to aid with Operation Palladium. Some have publicly complained that they’re being taken away from more important duties to do stake-out operations on regular residents.

Instead of scare tactics and misuse of law enforcement resources, the American public needs a better immigration system. Read more about what the American Immigration Lawyers Association proposes in our pamphlet, "Making Immigration Work for America."