With Escalation in ICE Raids, Immigrant Legal Resource Centers Double Down

Susan Reed is managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), a legal resource center for immigrant communities in the state, which is part of the Michigan Advocacy program. Reed was one of a group of legal aid attorneys who founded MIRC in 2008. In this interview, Reed discusses her experiences supporting clients detained in raids, the role of advocacy organizations in supporting these clients and the ways in which the immigration system was built to maintain a system of white supremacy.

What is your experience with immigration raids and immigration enforcement?

Susan Reed: I’ve been supporting people who are preparing for raids and representing people detained in raids for about 15 years. The most common way for people to get arrested seems to change with the times. When I started doing this work during the Bush administration, DUI [driving under the influence] stops and workplace enforcement were the most common ways people in the community I serve seemed to be getting detained. Throughout the Obama administration, driving without a license became far more common as a reason for detention, but toward the end of the administration, those detentions didn’t lead to deportation as often.

I have no idea how this lines up with statistics, but I find that shift interesting because there’s a lot more potential for profiling in a “no-ops” [traffic stops in which the driver has never had a valid driver’s license] stop than a DUI. Among those in detention in this administration, driving without a license is still the top way people living long-term in the US end up in detention, but we’re seeing an uptick again in “collateral damage” from home- and business-based raids that are allegedly targeting one particular individual.

In September of 2017, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] went to a blueberry camp in New Era, Michigan, with four empty vans and one removal order. They ended up arresting 10 people who they managed to engage in conversation about their status. Those people were taken more than 400 miles away to Youngstown, Ohio, and their cases were heard by the immigration court in Kansas City. We represented some of them and it was a logistical nightmare.

What is the role of advocacy organizations in combating deportation? In combating immigration raids?

We partnered with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] on a piece of litigation called Valdez et al v. United States. Our clients, Telma and Luis Valdez, were mother and son, permanent resident and US citizen, respectively. They showed up at a relative’s home while a raid was underway and were physically assaulted, handcuffed and detained by ICE even after they presented ID and proof of status. The case settled for money damages. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but I hope the impact was significant in terms of letting ICE know that we’re out here and we’re watching and that brave people like Luis and Telma won’t just take whatever abuse is being doled out on any given day.

I think that litigation had an impact, but compared to the election of an expressly anti-immigrant president who repeatedly — and technically, incorrectly — claimed he had the endorsement of ICE? (He actually had the endorsement of the ICE agents’ union.) Compared to his election, our impact is probably limited, but we’ve got the tools we’ve got. We’re co-counsel with ACLU National, ACLU of Michigan, CODE Legal Aid, the International Refugee Assistance Project and Miller Canfield in the Hamama v. Adducci case now, and I think that case is having a significant impact on the way ICE works. Finding ways to get in front of federal judges is unquestionably the best strategy we have (which is why stripping people’s right to have their case reviewed by a federal judge has been a high priority of anti-immigrant legislators for decades.)

We can’t file a federal lawsuit about every raid. Mostly what we do is advise immigrants about preparing for a raid and represent individuals in the aftermath. So, I can’t really claim that I’m combatting raids and deportation in a proactive way most of the time. We react a lot, but that’s what our clients need. ICE has the resources to keep us up on our heels.

Many people who do not work with or are not themselves part of immigrant communities are not familiar with immigration raids. If you could tell them one thing about raids, what would you say?

I did an interview recently with a woman who had been napping alongside her 4-year-old one weekday afternoon while her other children were at school. She never heard a knock at the door; she didn’t hear them kick it down; and she only woke up when agents entered the bedroom and started screaming at her and her child. (Kicking down the door isn’t usually within their powers under the Fourth Amendment, but in this case, they had gotten her information from an employer and secured a federal criminal indictment for allegedly working with a fake [Social Security Number] at a minimum-wage, meat-packing job.)

Just to be able to work at a minimum-wage job, she had to expose herself and her child to that terrifying reckoning. I think it’s easier for communities of color that are used to aggressive policing to imagine, but I grew up in an affluent suburb. People talked about working a minimum-wage job like that itself would be a terrible fate, and so to think of the risk and the price someone like this woman paid just to have the chance to do it? I wish the people I grew up with understood the cost they exact from other human beings in order to eat cheap, sliced meat.

It’s frequently stated that advocacy movements are siloed — that is, advocates do not work across issues. Do you see links between the work you do and that of other movements?

Our immigration system was designed to perpetuate white supremacy, so it’s inextricably linked to the movement for Black Lives and movements fighting racism, specifically anti-Black racism. (And of course, many immigrants are Black and the majority of recent immigrants are people of color.)

Unfortunately, there are anti-Black sentiments among both immigrants and allies that we have to keep working to change. We’re busting the links all the time when we say things like: “We are all immigrants!” (No, we aren’t: Some of us are Indigenous people, including so many immigrants, and enslaved Africans were not immigrants.) “Immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do.” (Not really. Think about agriculture — it has always depended on coerced labor, from slavery to sharecropping to migrant workers fleeing Jim Crow, and it just moved on to undocumented folks as African Americans made progress. When we say immigrants are hard-working — compared to whom? Who is not hard-working? What group of people in this country is consistently portrayed as “lazy” and not interested in work? You get the picture.)

Even in refugee resettlement, I feel like refugee leaders and advocates slip into a pattern of suggesting that American “inner cities” are full of people who obviously lack economic potential, and that refugees have some kind of innate superior qualities as economic actors that will magically revitalize things. That’s not to say that refugee resettlement can’t drive shared prosperity in cities — it can — or that there aren’t sometimes alignments between skills and capital that immigrants bring that can generate beneficial economic activity — there are. But taking advantage of that already-existing imported human and financial capital should only happen alongside similar investments and initiatives to ensure the development and flourishing of those already in an “inner city,” and I don’t always hear that in the conversation.