The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has become especially notorious under the Trump administration. Whether tearing apart families or making people so scared of possible deportation that they were afraid to seek help during the recent deadly hurricanes in Texas and Florida, ICE has earned an infamous reputation.
But you wouldn’t know that from looking at how ICE presents itself on social media. There, the agency is a heroic crime-fighter, busting gangs, capturing “illegal aliens,” seizing drugs, and petting cute dogs. One of the main places ICE has been pushing this narrative is its Instagram page, which has been operating since April of 2015. There, ICE describes itself as “focusing on preventing terrorism, immigration enforcement and combating transnational crime.” The reality, of course, is much more complicated. We analyzed all 257 posts from the ICE account. Broadly speaking, they fall into four categories, but they all push the same, incomplete narrative about the agency.
ICE has post after post showing agents arresting undocumented immigrants. Almost all of these posts blur the faces of the agents while leaving the people they are arresting unblurred and visible to the public. There are only seven instances where agents are not blurred in a post.
In total, 14% of the posts show immigrants with their faces unblurred. Just .03% show the faces of agents.
In 14% of the Instagrams, ICE posts mugshots and then asks the public to help locate the people—like this man, whom the agency calls an “at-large illegal alien”—in them.
ICE makes sure to show that it also retrieves stolen items and, of course, collects tons of drugs. Roughly 10% of its posts deal with these themes.
The large majority—roughly 68%—of the posts are for basic advertisements about ICE—its supposed accomplishments, its initiatives, its trainings, and its announcements for events. It offers an app, called Operation Predator, that is designed to “seek the public’s help with fugitive and unknown suspect child predators.” The agency also has a Cyber Crimes Center that helps “to fight cyber crime, identity theft and child exploitation.” And it wants to show blurry pictures of the vaguely rigorous training its officers undergo.
ICE wants you to know: it loves dogs! Dogs are cute and do not make you think of splitting families apart or going after innocent people.
ICE’s Instagram page shows that, above anything else, the agency has a crystal-clear message it wants to portray to its followers and anyone else who happens to look on their page—arresting and searching for alleged undocumented criminals. They do this while showcasing all of the steps they are taking to make sure that happens, whether it be through trainings, public appearances or highlighting their accomplishments.
But if ICE really was only doing the things it is portraying on its Instagram account—like arresting known predators and recovering stolen treasures—there wouldn’t be such a backlash from the public. The very specific picture ICE is is painting is clouded when you remember that, for instance, the agency detained a girl in an immigration jail for a month just because she was allegedly seen with suspected gang members. The ICE that made a man buy his own plane ticket out of the country or deported a father of four back to Mexico doesn’t show up here. Neither does the agency that allegedly profiled and detained an American citizen, arrested parents at a hospital as they waited for their son to have surgery, left women and children stranded at a bus stop as a hurricane approached, or stalked people outside of courthouses. And, for anyone looking to get the full picture of what ICE is, that’s a huge problem.
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