Leaked plans by the Trump administration to launch a massive wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids dubbed Operation Mega – described in the documents as "the largest operation of its kind in the history of ICE" – have provoked an equally large response by migrant rights advocates.
Campaigners are filing Freedom of Information Act or FOIA requests at every ICE field office across the country to demand details of the nationwide enforcement and removal operations.
The raids planned to net 8,400 to 10,000 undocumented immigrants in an operation scheduled to begin September 17, but ICE later issued a statement saying it had been canceled due to the damage wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Groups including the Detention Watch Network, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Mijente, Council on American Islamic Relations, Northwest Detention Center Resistance and over 50 other organizations held news conferences to demand transparency from immigration enforcement officials they claim have become rogue, corrupt and antagonistic toward the rights of migrant communities.
A copy of the FOIA request provided to teleSUR that was submitted to the Seattle field office shows a wide range of information the organizers hope to obtain relating to how ICE planned to implement Operation Mega and related operations.
The information requested includes data on how the planned targets were identified; what the technological infrastructure of plan is, including biometric devices or databases; the extent of reliance on fusion centers or collaboration with other agencies; the extent of data-sharing with other agencies, both federal and local; the criteria for target selection; the number of Department of Homeland Security personnel involved; ICE detention bed capacity within the field offices' jurisdiction; inter-agency communications records; budgetary and financial records, and so on.
“Since the election and under the direction of Tom Homan at Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Trump’s deportation force has become unchained and been acting with impunity,” the Detention Watch Network said in a statement.
“Under Trump, ICE has reported a 150 percent increase in the use of force,” the group continued. “It has rescinded any guidance on prosecutorial discretion making every single undocumented person a target for removal. And even before the promised 15,000 additional agents, ICE’s arrest rate rose 40 percent in the first hundred days of Trump’s administration alone, frequently in conjunction with new prosecutions by Sessions’ DOJ.”
In Philadelphia, community group Juntos led a demonstration to the ICE office, accusing the Trump administration of unleashing an “unaccountable agency” against Latino communities, according to local NBC News 10.
“The recent announcement of Operation Mega is the latest in a list of rogue tactics aimed at our community,” the group's executive director, Erika Almiron, said. Since the federal government isn’t checking their corruption, we are filing FOIAs locally and across the country to begin to monitor it and bring it to light.”
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union accused ICE of asking federal record maintenance agency for permission to destroy its internal records related to detention operations, including logs of people detained, records relating to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and in-custody deaths, raising concerns that the immigration enforcement agency are seeking to avoid scrutiny that would expose a massive paper trail of unconstitutional practices and rights abuses.
“ICE is an agency that regularly lies and actively hides information from public view,” said Danny Cendejas, organizing director of Detention Watch Network, said in a press release. “We will fight ICE’s abusive practices at every level, from preparing local immigrant communities to demanding the release of information on their enforcement activities in an effort to end the relentless attacks on our communities.”
Additionally, July's so-called “targeted” dragnet ostensibly aimed at Central American minors – titled “Operation Border Guardian/Border Resolve” – managed to net 650 undocumented immigrants. ICE statements, however, clarified that 70 percent of those detained were “collateral” victims of the raids whom ICE agents “encountered” during the sweeps – meaning that they were never given deportation orders nor did they have criminal records, but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Our community no longer trusts ICE. That is why today we are asking them to give us in writing what they are really planning,” said Anibal Fuentes, a member of Organized Communities Against Deportations as he delivered the FOIA to Chicago's ICE office. “We want to show them that we are going to continue organizing and fighting so that they cannot separate our families,” he concluded.