After the separation of parents and children at the US-Mexico border this summer renewed uproar over the abuses of the US immigration enforcement agencies, the call to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with detentions and deportations inside the country, began to catch fire.
People protesting ICE for the first time joined those who have been on the front lines of the fight for immigrant justice for decades. While I have been heartened by all who have joined the movement to end detentions and deportations, my own activism has come at a cost: Some leading activists like myself who have long opposed ICE now face retaliation from the agency itself, with surveillance, arrests and deportations of ICE’s opponents on the rise.
This kind of targeting did not start with Trump. I know from documentation secured through a Freedom of Information Act request that ICE has been surveilling my actions and those of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) Resistance, the group I helped co-found to support immigrants detained at the now-infamous Tacoma immigrant detention jail, since the Obama administration.
ICE officers began accessing my LinkedIn profile in 2014, after the Tacoma Police Department reported our rallies and actions outside the jail directly to ICE, and the agency also kept tabs on our events by monitoring our Facebook page. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed more than 300 pages of ICE correspondence about me and my work with NWDC Resistance from 2018 alone. Trump’s rise to power empowered ICE to target me more directly: ICE issued a document that triggered the beginning of my deportation case, which is still pending against me citing my “anti-ICE activism and Latino advocacy.”
I’m not the only one. As laid out in the lawsuit filed on October 23 in a Federal District Court in Washington State, in the past two years, ICE has been systematically surveilling, detaining and deporting immigrant activists who speak out against their abuses. What does ICE hope to achieve by trying to silence us? The organizing I have been involved in has revealed the ongoing abuses at the Northwest Detention Center.
Although ICE and GEO Group, the private corporation that runs the NWDC, continue to deny any wrongdoing, the 15 hunger strikes that have occurred there since 2014 have put the Tacoma jail on the map as part of a broader system of immigrant detention jails that are rotten to the core and must be closed.
Instead of addressing the human rights violations revealed by the hunger strikers, ICE has instead fought to silence those who have brought the abuses to the public’s attention. Just this month, we heard that the day after the Seattle Weekly published an exposé on the inadequate medical care at the jail that highlighted the case of one immigrant named Saja Tunkara, his ICE officer threatened him with immediate deportation.
People outside detention are also facing suppression of their dissent; in a city that claims the mantle of “sanctuary” for immigrants, the nine activists who shut down an avenue outside of ICE’s Seattle headquarters this past June to call attention to the agency’s actions are now facing criminal prosecution by the Seattle city attorney.
Ultimately, these actions only strengthen our resolve to dismantle ICE. This has become even more important as we witness the caravan of migrants making its way here from Central America. The violence the Honduran migrants faced at the Guatemala-Mexico border this week will likely be repeated when they reach the US-Mexico border, with the Trump administration vowing to turn the migrants back. Even as US-based activists plan support for the caravan’s migrants, they must simultaneously plan to defend themselves from ICE’s suppression of such support.
While NWDC Resistance remains ready to fight, I would be lying if I said that ICE’s actions against me haven’t had an impact. There are only so many hours in a day, and I must now spend some of those hours organizing my defense so that I can stay in the US, by my daughter’s side. I have been overwhelmed with the community support I have received and with the support from the organizations that have rallied to my side. The legal support I’ve received from the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIP-NLG) has allowed me to fight this battle on my own terms.
But I know that every second NWDC Resistance spends on my case is one that is diverted from our original mission – to expose ICE and shut down its capacity to terrorize our community members. For this reason, two of our key organizational partners – Detention Watch Network and Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites – have joined NWDC Resistance in suing ICE, with NIP-NLG leading the charge in court.
ICE’s intimidation and threats against our work speaks for itself: They are committed to stopping all dissidents in their tracks. This should worry not just immigrant rights activists but also anyone who is concerned about the fascist turn the Trump regime is taking and the way ICE is being deputized as Trump’s personal police force.
Trump’s escalating rhetoric is designed to alienate protesters, making us seem like the threat. Now more than ever, we ask you to fight alongside us, as we demand answers from ICE about their policies and retaliatory practices. By filing our First Amendment lawsuit against ICE, we are sending a signal that we won’t be bullied.
My allegiance is to the immigrants who remain locked up in Tacoma, and until that facility closes, my work – and the work of NWDC Resistance and all of our partners – will continue.