When you've got an official narrative to deliver, you need everyone to pitch in to keep it from falling apart. No one can say ICE didn't try. The Trump administration -- bolstered by supporting statements conjecture from DOJ and DHS officials -- has portrayed undocumented immigrants as little more than nomadic thugs. Unfortunately, there's hardly any evidence available to back up the assertion that people here illegally are more likely to commit serious criminal acts.
Back in February, shortly after Trump handed down immigration-focused executive orders, ICE went all in on arresting undocumented visitors and immigrants. Included in this push was a focus on so-called "sanctuary cities" like Austin, Texas, which had vowed to push back against Trump's anti-immigrant actions.
Emails obtained by The Intercept show ICE doing all it can to prop up Trump's "dangerous criminal" stereotyping. Unfortunately, despite all of its efforts, ICE failed to come across many dangerous criminals during its February sweeps.
On February 10, as the raids kicked off, an ICE executive in Washington sent an “URGENT” directive to the agency’s chiefs of staff around the country. “Please put together a white paper covering the three most egregious cases,” for each location, the acting chief of staff of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations wrote in the email.
It's a good starting point, especially if the administration is relying on you to back up its assertions. ICE was willing to go the extra mile to do just that, apparently.
“If a location has only one egregious case — then include an extra egregious case from another city.”
This is an interesting ploy: cannibalizing nearby cities' reporting in order to present some semblance of an "egregious case" immigrant nightmare --one that would need to be stripped of redundancy before final presentation.
Unfortunately for ICE agents, you can't make something out nothing. Three cases per city proved to be almost impossible. Many raids failed to uncover even one egregious case. With the clock ticking down, some ICE offices decided to grab "egregious cases" completely unrelated to the current operation.
In February 11, an official responded to a colleague’s list of egregious cases by pointing out that they were unrelated to the ongoing operation. “The arrest dates are before any operation and even before the EO’s. What is up with these cases?” the official wrote.
What's up with those cases is there were almost zero new cases to report to the man upstairs. Hundreds of arrests were made, but many involved people with no prior criminal record. In the remaining arrests, most of the priors found were minor violations, with the worst being drunk driving.
Not exactly the "public safety threat" the Trump administration had promised. When it became clear the "egregious case" reports might total only a handful of serious criminal offenses from hundreds of arrests nationwide, ICE quickly applied its own spin.
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…
By spinning it this way, ICE can pay needed lip service to the administration's "dangerous immigrants" narrative and portray the lack of egregious cases as the result of the banal day-to-day work of immigration enforcement. But in doing so, it undercuts the narrative it's trying to serve. If there are so many dangerous criminals out there, why isn't ICE focused on them, rather than dozens of people whose only criminal act is a lack of documentation? ICE can't have it both ways. Neither can the White House.