According to recent reports, former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to attempt to portray undocumented immigrants swept up in mass raids earlier this year as criminals, despite claiming the arrests were motivated by public safety concerns.
Earlier this week, The Intercept published a cache of internal emails exchanged between ICE officials in Texas back in February, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by students at Vanderbilt University Law School. The emails exposed a cold truth: the Department of Homeland Security tried–but mostly failed–to execute a narrative from President Donald Trump’s administration that the raids were motivated by public concerns.
The emails show that ICE officials in Texas were ordered to come up with “three egregious cases” of detained criminals to showcase in the media. The February raids resulted in 680 arrests across the country, including the arrests of dozens of people with no prior criminal record. An investigate report by the Austin American-Statesman following the raids found that 23 of the 51 individuals had criminal records. The other 28 led “quiet lives and stayed out of trouble.”
ICE officials referred to the detainment of the 28 individuals as “collateral damage.” Even as ICE officials defended their actions as “routine business” at the time, immigration advocates in Texas and throughout the country remained skeptical.
Their suspicions were justified with The Intercept’s story, as an email from February 10th shows that an ICE executive in Washington ordered the agency’s chiefs of staff to “please put together a white paper covering the three most egregious cases” for each location where a raid took place. “If a location has only one egregious case—then include an extra egregious case from another city,” the email reads.
A reader for The Intercept pointed out the emails subject line read “Due Tonight for S1-URGENT” meaning the request had been made by Kelly, who is referred to as “S1” in shorthand by the department. Kelly left his post as the Secretary of Homeland Security in July, when he replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff.
An email sent out the following day by an ICE agent in San Antonio said headquarters “(indicated) we failed at” compiling three egregious case write-ups. The Intercept also reports that an assistant field director in the Austin office noted headquarters’ and San Antonio offices’ growing impatience, and that a recent arrest that day could be written up as an “egregious case.”
ICE declined to comment for The Intercept’s investigation.