Donald Trump has always gone out of his way to portray immigrants in the worst possible light. Now, thanks to some new reporting in The Intercept, we have another glimpse at just how thoroughly the efforts to smear undocumented immigrants has been in Trump’s administration.
In early February, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency launched its first mass arrests of Trump’s presidency—a five-day-long effort that rounded up some 700 undocumented people across the United States. As is almost always the case, a huge portion of the people detained had either committed only minor offenses or had no criminal record at all. But in hundreds of emails obtained by students at the Vanderbilt University School of Law, and published first by The Intercept, ICE is shown as being desperate to frame the sweep as targeting and successfully apprehending dangerous, hardened criminals.
In an email marked “URGENT” sent to ICE administrators during the February raids, the agency’s acting chief of staff for its Enforcement and Removal Operations division instructed departments to “put together a white paper covering the three most egregious cases” [emphasis theirs] in each location, dedicating a paragraph for each example.
“If a location has only one egregious case — then include an extra egregious case from another city,” the email added, noting that these examples were due that evening.
Almost immediately, field offices began reporting back that they were having difficulty identifying the “egregious” cases requested by the higher-ups.
“The arrest dates are before any operation and even before the EO’s. What is up with these cases?” one ICE employee wrote in an email, questioning why another ICE official’s list of cases seemed entirely unrelated to the February sweep.
According to the site, the emails show how ICE’s narrative surrounding the February raids morphed to fit the initially false justification given at its onset. The agency first described the sweeps as helping “improve public safety” by “removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public.” But ICE later tried to downplay the raids, framing them as a routine action.
In some sense, ICE’s attempts to craft a false narrative around their work is in keeping with the agency’s clear pattern of self-promoting obfuscation. When Splinter dove into ICE’s presence on Instagram, for example, we found that ICE framed itself as a dog-loving, drug-busting, great place to work. The only people shown being arrested were criminals. The agency’s work arresting, imprisoning, and deporting massive numbers of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records, including DACA recipients, was conveniently ignored.
Since the February raids, ICE has gone on to conduct a number of other sweeping enforcement actions. Most recently, the agency claimed to have arrested nearly 500 people during “Operation Safe City,” which specifically targeted sanctuary jurisdictions in which local law enforcement agencies had resisted cooperating with federal immigration enforcement. At least 198 of those people had no criminal record. ICE’s press release, though, emphasized that it had “[prioritized] aliens with criminal convictions, pending criminal charges, known gang members and affiliates, immigration fugitives and those who re-entered the U.S. after deportation.” It seems that the agency’s pattern of propaganda has continued unabated.