There is a list of precautions you are advised to take, should officers from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) come to your door. First, you are to remain calm. According to the ACLU, you should then ask the agents to identify themselves. “If they don’t speak your language, ask for an interpreter,” the “Know Your Rights” guide continues. Then, you should ask the officers to produce a warrant. If they have it, they’re supposed to slip it under the door. If they don’t, they are to leave. This is the protocol. You are never to open the door, unless a judge has ordered a search or arrest warrant. You are to call a lawyer.
The reality of the immigration raids conducted by ICE, a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, doesn’t comply with the logic of lists. These operations induce chaos. An extensive report by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights investigated a January ICE raid of the Atlanta area, along with similar efforts in South Carolina and Georgia. It found that nearly every expectation of protocol was routinely violated: Officers barreled through doors without warrants; interpreters weren’t produced when asked for; lawyers were never called. Most remarkably: “ICE has refused to release children and their mothers from immigration detention — a violation of national settlement.” And it was mostly women and their children, universally recognized as the two most vulnerable groups in any nation, who were targeted. On the second day of a new year, in what was to them a new country, ICE locked up 121 of them.
A rogue pretext of criminality, sometimes having nothing to do with the female targets themselves, satisfies some shaky standard for ICE to force its officers into homes. In the SPLC report, Lesly Padilla Padilla, a 26-year-old mother who fled Honduras with her twins to escape an abusive partner, recounts being asked to identify a man named David. “They showed her a picture of an African-American man. She again said that no one named David lived in her apartment. The officers insisted, so she let them in.”
The women and children go first. The theater of deportation has traveled north from places like Miami and El Paso up to cities like Los Angeles, D.C., and Atlanta. The violence of border “removal,” in legal terms, is everywhere — but then again, wasn’t it always? Historically, U.S. deportation officers have been empowered to enter workplaces, private institutions, and even schools to carry out raids. ICE is planning a second multi-state operation from May to June, focusing on families and minors who have turned 18 since entering the country. The impending raids have the potential to exact a more devastating human cost than those in January.
That a percentage of interactions with ICE ultimately end with the release of some immigrants should not obscure the Obama administration’s unprecedented aggression in deportation policies. For all of the conservative screaming to the contrary, for all of the sustained othering of this president whom opponents have fallen over themselves to paint as foreign, Barack Obama has deported more people than any other president in U.S. history. Obama has deported more women than any other president in U.S. history. This from an administration that has pledged, over and over again, to pass “sensible” immigration reform. Janet Murguía, president of National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization formed during the Civil Rights Era, has infamously called him the “deporter-in-chief.” The current administration is on pace to “succeed” in deporting over 3 million people by the end of its second term — if you define success as a reckless conflation of poverty with national border insecurity so indiscriminate that toddlers are seeing the walls of detention centers.
Formed in 2003, in the shadow of the bogeyman specter of 9/11, ICE operations have turned their attention toward Central and South Americans during the Obama administration. It’s a region that is either experiencing a violent crime spike or a refugee crisis, not a confluence of both, depending on which reality you subscribe to. ICE officials touted Project Shadowfire, a five-week national operation that resulted in the arrests of 1,133 people, all charged with varying involvement in “gang activity,” as an exemplar of police and intelligence cooperation.
But these sweeps, as most activists and police officers know, always carry a collateral price. They are unintelligent police tactics, because they rely on shoddy intel and an equalization of community affiliations with what is termed gang activity. This equalization, this criminalization, of the poverty and violence women are most subject to, has reached its largest gap since 2000. Of the 438,121 immigrants the administration deported in 2013, 240,000 were deemed "non-criminals" because they had no arrest records. Immigration attorneys have found that of the remaining number, many of the criminal charges were “trumped up.”
Mythologies justify policies as much as data. The American approach to racialized ideas of corruption and violence in the southern half of the Western hemisphere hinges on this belief: There is violence but there are no victims; there are gangs but there are no targets. There are no families, only criminal organizations. The other reality is this: Countries like Venezuela and Honduras are embroiled in protracted human rights emergencies that directly conflict with American economic interest. "The Other Refugee Crisis," meant to distinguish from the international attention afforded to white European migrants, ensnares women on the local and international levels. The national insecurity these women flee is the insecurity that makes them deportation officials’ easiest targets. The promise of petroleum reserves, compounded by the volatility of the fourth-generation warfare in Venezuela, have rendered the country a chess piece. In Honduras, a women’s movement attempts to fight the country’s high rates of domestic violence and rape, all while the U.S. backs a militarized President Hernández. This is, of course, the type of violence agencies like ICE claim will diffuse like a contagion across the border. And that’s where the deportation policies’ research truncates.
Inevitably, the American election cycle has localized the problem of immigration reform in the aspirations of the presumptive nominees. Trump hopes to build the wall. Those who oppose him are crafting a narrative that this is unimaginable barbarism, that our democracy will not stand for such a government intrusion, for such invasive immigration “reform.” All of this is horrifying, but for now theoretical. As women and children in America prepare for visits from ICE once again this month, we ought to realize that these particular fears of the future are naive. Walls are already being erected in home after home, in a particularly dehumanizing fashion: forcing out the very people this country ought to protect.