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Lawsuit: ICE Officers Trick Immigrants By Pretending to be Local Police

— April 17, 2020

One plaintiff says an ICE officer knocked on his door, identified herself as a detective, and showed his mother the picture of a “dangerous criminal” she was searching for. None of it was true.

A recently filed lawsuit wants Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to stop identifying themselves as local law enforcement.

During raids and other enforcement activities, ICE officials often wear clothing akin to police field uniforms: flak jackets, holsters, and bulletproof vests. While such apparel is common for federal officers, ICE’s tactical gear often has “POLICE” blazoned across its front. And oftentimes, ICE agents allegedly use that to their advantage, identifying themselves as “detectives” rather than immigration officials.

And immigration advocates say that’s problematic—especially in states and cities with sanctuary-type policies in place.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union and U.C. Irvine Law School Immigrants Rights Clinic have filed a prospective class action against ICE. Collectively, they claim the agency wears police-style apparel to trick community members into thinking they’re local police.

“They are U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents relying on deception to trick community members to open their doors and allow agents into their homes without judicial warrants,” the lawsuit states. “It’s a tactic that undermines trust in the real police. And it violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

The lawsuit, notes, was filed on behalf of Hacienda Heights, California, resident Osny Sorto-Vasquez Kidd, as well as two community based organizations: the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles.

An ICE officer in Florida. Image via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Flickr. Public domain.

Sorto-Vasquez Kidd, adds, is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The program allows undocumented migrants who came to the United States as children to obtain temporary, renewable residency permits and work authorization.

He says that when ICE agents came to his house, they referred to themselves as “detectives,” saying they were looking for a dangerous criminal who’d used his family’s address. One female “detective” even showed the family a photograph of the person they were supposedly looking for.

Sorto-Vasquez Kidd’s mother, disturbed by what the self-proclaimed detective had told her, opened the door and invited her in. Only then did it become apparent that she, along with her colleagues, were ICE agents.

And, as it turns out, there was no dangerous criminal—the photograph was “apparently fake,” an excuse to probe the family’s immigration status.

“It’s not right how ICE impersonated police officers and lied their way into my family’s home,” Sorto-Vasquez Kidd said. “I’m so grateful to have DACA because it is supposed to offer protections, but what they’re doing is just wrong.”

Annie Lai, co-director of the U.C. Irvine clinic, told The Orange County Register that these kinds of tactics aren’t uncommon.

“We have documented stories from Orange County, from L.A., from the Inland Empire,” Lai said. “The practice is fairly common.”

“What they’re doing is unconstitutional,” she added. “This is the first lawsuit I’m aware of that will focus on the legality of ICE impersonating police.”

The Register notes that, while ICE didn’t respond to its request for comment, it’s evident the agency has no policy prohibiting its officers from deliberately “impersonating another government agency to gain entry into a home or lure an individual outside.”

Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said it’s concerning that ICE’s actions might make it difficult for area residents to discern between law enforcement agencies.

“ICE is a bonafide [sic] federal law enforcement agency,” Rubenstein said. “It does concern us that our residents may not be able to delineate the difference between agencies, and therefore may not report criminal activity or potential victimization.”


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