ICE’s Chilling Attack on Free Speech and Dissent

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November 16, 2018

As a Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, trying to establish his conservative bonafides, in one of his campaign ads said he isn’t waiting for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to do its job.  “I’ve got a big truck in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself,” Kemp boasts in the commercial. “Yup, I just said that,” he adds with a smile.

Regardless of the size of Kemp’s truck he would be hard pressed to keep pace with the surge in arrests ICE carried out last year. According to ICE’s data, there was a 41% increase in the number of undocumented immigrants arrested by the agency in 2017 compared to the previous year.  

The increase was expected since one of Trump’s first actions after taking office was to release ICE from Obama-era guidelines that prioritized arresting immigrants with serious criminal charges.  Instead, the new orders gave them wide discretion to target almost any undocumented immigrant, regardless if they had family members who are U.S. citizens, the length of time that had been living here, and if they had no criminal record while in the country.

The impact of the change in policy was immediate.  The number of immigrants without a criminal conviction deported in fiscal year 2017 shot up 174 percent compared to the same period the year before.

What is less surprising, and in step with this administration’s blitzkrieg against the First Amendment, is how ICE appears to be systemically targeting activist immigrants for speaking out against the president’s policies.   In some instances activists were arrested (or detained) minutes after speaking at a pro-immigration event, participating in a anti-ICE protest, or while leaving the offices of advocacy groups where they work.  There are also reports of ICE agents arresting activists without first obtaining warrants and questioning them in order to collect information about other activists.

Several immigration rights groups (and one of the activists fighting deportation) have responded by suing ICE, describing in their lawsuit how the “sharp spike in immigration enforcement specifically targeting the most vocal immigration activists is intended to stifle dissent.” Noting that four plaintiffs named in the complaint are without criminal records, the lawsuit makes the case that ICE is zeroing in them “in order to silence them.”

“The Government’s targeting of activists on the basis of their core political speech is unfair, discriminatory, and un-American. And it violates the First Amendment,” the lawsuit states.

While undocumented immigrants do not enjoy as many constitutional rights available to U.S. citizens- they cannot vote, for example- they do have many rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, and if arrested, a right to a Miranda warning. The Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas vs. Davis (2001) that “once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the due process clause applies to all persons within the United States.” Undocumented immigrants are also permitted to assist nonprofit organizations advocating for public policy changes with just a few restrictions.

While ICE denies the charge saying it does not retaliate against people for their political speech or activities, Detention Watch Network, a nonprofit that tracks immigration enforcement and a plaintiff to the suit, says ICE’s motivation is hard to miss.  “[A]ctivists have been surveilled, intimidated, harassed, and detained, their homes have been raided, many have been plucked off the street in broad daylight, and some have even been deported.” Some of the documented cases in the lawsuit include:

  • Jean Montrevil, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York
  • Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York
  • Maru Mora Villalpando, a well-known immigrant-rights activist in Washington state
  • Jose Victor Garcia Diaz, Zully Palacios and Enrique Balcazar, members of Migrant Justice, a group advocating on behalf of undocumented dairy workers in Vermont
  • Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old and DACA recipient who was detained after speaking at an immigration-rights event
  • Baltazar Aburto Guiterrez, activist detained by an ICE agent who “explicitly referenced the fact he had spoken to a newspaper” about the deportation of his wife.

Casa de Maryland, another immigration-rights group and plaintiff in the lawsuit, says ICE has conducted more than 50 raids on its members or their families, and has deported immigrants who in the past were permitted to stay as long as they regularly checked in with ICE. “Leaders like Missael Garcia and Monica Camacho, two of CASA’s most outspoken activists and both plaintiffs in CASA’s DACA lawsuit (against the president), face potential retaliation for continuing to defend their families and their communities,” according to the group’s spokesperson.

“They’re trying to intimidate people,” said New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, speaking about the arrests and deportation of prominent activists. “These are well-known activists who’ve been here for decades, and they’re saying to them: Don’t raise your head.”

Critics of the administration say harassing thousands of undocumented immigrants who are employed, active in their communities and staying out of trouble is an abuse of power. Hundreds of people have set up protest camps outside of ICE’s detention centers in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and elsewhere or been arrested for protesting ICE’s actions and for targeting Trump’s political opponents.  Many have vowed to continue to protest until the administration stops demonizing immigrants.

From his alarming attacks on the press, to his unlawful targeting of Inauguration Day protesters and support to limit free speech activities on the National Mall and across the country, the president has demonstrated a blatant disregard for Constitutional rights.  Vitriol, obvious lies and reckless rhetoric have become the lingua franca of this presidency, putting lives and our democracy in danger and will continue to be threat to our way of life until he is removed from office.  

Yeah, I just said it.