U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced earlier this month that its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division will begin offering its first ERO Citizens Academy in Chicago beginning September 15. According to their news release, “The goal of the program is for participants to become familiar with how and why ICE carries out its mission.” ERO is currently sending letters to folks in Chicago inviting them to “participate in scenario-based training and exercises conducted in a safe and positive environment, including, but not limited to defensive tactics, firearms familiarization, and targeted arrests.”
Gamaliel religious leaders and community leaders are alarmed by what could result in de facto endorsement of vigilantism. History provides many examples of the dangers, violence, and destruction that result when citizens feel empowered to act on behalf of the “state.”
- Following Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, states in the former Confederacy passed laws preventing black men from voting and used the threat of lynching to ensure compliance. Vigilante mobs then took it upon themselves to enforce the “law” and to enforce racial segregation.
- In Germany, the group “Hitler Youth” was formed to indoctrinate children and teens into Nazi ideology and prepare them to go to war to destroy Jews, as well as a number of other groups of people based on their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.
- More recently, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator for his gated community in Florida.
According to the ICE Chicago Field Office Director Robert Guadian, the citizens academy in Chicago is a pilot for nationwide implementation, which means taxpayer dollars are being used—and yet, according to Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Congress has not been briefed on the program’s rollout.
Now is not the time for ICE to launch this initiative—an initiative which smacks of white supremacy and state-supported vigilantism. ICE has more important issues to address, not the least of which is its role in spreading the coronavirus in the U.S. and globally.
As people of faith, it is time for us to reach out to our Members of Congress and urge them to act immediately to prevent the implementation of these Citizens Academies. You can reach your elected by calling the Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121 or (888) 352-3520, and following the prompts. If you prefer to email your Member, you can find the email address at: https://www.house.gov/representatives or https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.
Together we can end the oppression of our immigrant sisters and brothers!
Pablo Tapia, Chair, Gamaliel Civil Rights of Immigrants Campaign