ICE internal investigation clears officers of abuse, critics claim whitewash
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation into allegations of racial profiling and abuse by federal agents in the Detroit area has cleared officials of any wrongdoing and prompted bitter disappointment among immigrant rights advocates.
In April ICE Director John Morton met with community groups in Detroit and promised to investigate reports that officers triggered panic and disrupted learning by following parents as they dropped off and picked up their kids at Hope of Detroit Academy and Neinas Elementary School in predominately Latino Southwest Detroit.
According to the Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform Michigan, the incidents at the schools are part of a pattern of Detroit area ICE agent behavior that has included warrantless searches, a mother strip searched in front of her son, detainees, including a pregnant woman, denied needed medicines in jail, an immigrant shoved through a wall by agents, and harassment of American citizens.
The ICE Office of Professional Responsibility report on the investigation into these incidents, however, found that officers did not engage in any abuse or professional misconduct.
The report — provided to Michigan Messenger last week — also claims that the enforcement action near Hope of Detroit Academy, did not violate an agency policy against enforcement at sensitive locations because it took place blocks away from the school.
ICE spokesman Brian P. Hale put a positive spin on the investigation.
The incidents at the schools, he said in a statement, “have provided the agency an additional opportunity to reiterate its policies governing [Enforcement and Removal Operations] involving sensitive locations in a manner that addresses community concerns and is appropriate under the law.”
“We believe that the ICE report was a complete whitewash that shows that the Dept. of Homeland Security and ICE in particular is unable to police itself,” said Alliance for Immigrants Rights Director Ryan Bates. “The folks who looked into this had a clear conflict of interest.”
Bates said that ICE failed to interview witnesses and victims, took officers at their word when they said they had followed policy, and never addressed the issue of whether officers had warrants for searches they conducted.
Bates, who was called to the scene at Hope of Detroit Academy by panicked parents back in March, said that he finds it insulting that ICE claims no enforcement action happened there.
“I had to ask ICE agents to leave their positions around the school,” he said.
“We were very disappointed,” said Lawrence Garcia, president of the Michigan Hispanic Bar Association. “The promise that we got was that we would have a personal return visit from [ICE Director] John Morton within 60 days and instead we got a self-serving report in 75 days with an inadequate explanation of the events that gave rise to so many complaints.”
“They admit that they were at the school and they were conducting enforcement activities,” he said. “What they deny is that that activity was violative of the policy at the time.”
“If they stake out a sensitive location but they complete the detention at a location so many feet or blocks away they say that didn’t violate the policy as it used to exist.”
Garcia said that it seems that ICE is saying that it is now going to avoid staking out people at sensitive locations.
“Going forward we may not have the same problem again,” he said.
Hope of Detroit Academy Principal Ali Abdel said that ICE has backed off and “everything has been pretty calm and normal” since community organizers publicized the March incidents.
Other community-based organizations report increased enforcement actions that they feel could be retribution for complaining about ICE actions.
Lidia Reyes, executive director of Latino Family Services, reports that she and five others have been stopped recently by U.S. Border Patrol Agents near the the social service agency in downtown Detroit. Reyes said that that Border Patrol agents routinely practice racial profiling.
“It seems like the minute they see that you speak English or you are not afraid of them they back off.”
After the community outcry against ICE actions, Latino Family Services had relief from harassment by Border Patrol for a few months, she said, “and then they just started back up a couple of weeks ago.”
Enforcement actions disrupt agency work and frighten clients, she said.
“We have an [English as Second Language] class that down-sized about 70 percent for a few weeks,” she said. “We have a substance abuse clinic here and people stopped coming to that.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) said his office is reviewing ICE’s report on it’s investigation.
“Allegations of warrantless searches, racial profiling, and unlawful detentions must be taken seriously,” he said. “I have some concerns about the thoroughness of ICE’s review.”