Halt ICE ‘Citizens Academy’ in Chicago, immigration advocates say

Immigration advocates in Chicago are calling for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop plans to create a Citizens Academy that is expected to begin on the same day of the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The academy, scheduled to start Sept. 15, will take place six days a week for six weeks and will give residents insight into the agency’s operations. It will include a trip to one of the jails that contracts with ICE to hold people in immigration custody.

“The Citizens Academy also affords ICE the opportunity to hear from participants, understand their perspectives and debunk myths,” the agency said in a news release.

But advocates like Miguel Lopez, of Organized Communities Against Deportations, said most people already know how ICE operates through stories of people being deported. Lopez’s brother was recently deported to Mexico.

“ICE does not need to tell their story, they’ve been telling it by their actions since the existence of the agency,” Lopez said.

Joaquin Vasquez, an organizer with the labor group Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, said the academy will add to the fear that exists among immigrants who dread being stopped by an immigration agent or being taken from their families.

“This agency has separated millions of families at the border,” Vasquez said in Spanish. “And now they want to train regular people to do the same in our communities.”

An ICE official said the academy is intended to be modeled after other law enforcement academies, and it’s not meant to train people to do the work of immigration agents. The academy was initially going to be held in January, but it was moved to the fall.

Bárbara Suarez Galeano, of the Detention Watch Network, said she didn’t think it was a coincidence that the academy will start as Hispanic Heritage Month gets underway.

Advocates also worry the academy will lead to racial profiling and increased tensions.

By Elvia Malagón for CHICAGO SUN TIMES
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