From Posing as Police to Fake Texts: Manipulative Tactics ICE Uses to Deport Families

Lead Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officers arrive to a Flatbush Gardens home in search of an undocumented immigrant on April 11, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officers arrive to a Flatbush Gardens home in search of an undocumented immigrant on April 11, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
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On January 3, 2016 – as most people came down from holiday bliss – Reynold Garcia Chavez sought solace at the Christian Pentecostal Center in Schaumburg, Illinois. Chicago Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apprehended his wife and two children just the day before, and he turned to the church for refuge. But instead, he accuses ICE of using unethical tactics to lure him from his haven. At about 9:21 a.m., he received a series of text messages that appeared to come from his housemate, Noel Coria.

Related: ICE Immigration Raids: Know Your Rights

“The messages said he had crashed his automobile and the police wanted to talk with me,” he said in a statement, according to #Not1More. “I received a missed call from Noel’s number. I returned the call, and I heard the voice of an individual who identified himself as a Palatine police officer. He told me that I had to head to our apartment because Noel had gotten into a car accident, that my name appeared on the car title, and that they needed me there to straighten out some insurance issues. He told me that I needed to come only because of the crash and that I could return to the church when we were done. So, I agreed to cooperate with them. I never imagined this was a lie.”

What he couldn’t have known then was that he was speaking to an ICE agent and not his friend. A letter requesting that the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights Office investigate Chicago ICE reveals that agents took Coria’s phone and used it without permission. Reportedly, ICE didn’t obtain a warrant for Coria’s phone.

Wanting to comply with officers, Garcia agreed to let what he thought were police officers pick him up from the church. When two people from church asked the government employees if they were ICE, they reportedly denied the accusations. “About five minutes after we left the church, the agents stopped the car in the parking lot of Moretti’s restaurant in Schaumburg, Illinois,” he said. “They made me get out so that they could search me. The ICE agent told me to turn around immediately handcuffed me. I was then told they were ICE agents and that I was under arrest. From there, ICE quickly processed me for deportation.”

Since at least the 1980s, undocumented immigrants have turned to churches for sanctuary. According to NPR, as of a 2011 ICE memo, agents shouldn’t arrest anyone at schools, hospitals, public demonstrations, and churches. This only applies to people who aren’t a danger to the public or terror suspect. Across the country, more churches began welcoming undocumented immigrants – particularly those from Central America – after news broke in late December that ICE planned to raid the homes of adults and children who judges served with orders of removal. For Garcia Chavez, heading to the Christian Pentecostal Center was a direct result of ICE raiding his family.

According to his wife, Karen Margarito Pineda, ICE employed similarly deceptive strategies to arrest her. On January 2, 2016, Karen received a call from a woman who identified herself as a police officer. She wanted information on a suspect, and Karen welcomed the agents into her home. “When I opened the door, the uniformed officers immediately entered my home,” she said. “I recall there was around eight of them. The officers never showed me a warrant or any type of paper. They told me that they were with ICE and that they would return me and my children to Mexico.”

They questioned her 11-year-old son, Santiago – frightening him in the process. Karen also claims the agents forced her to call her daughter, who was at a friend’s house, because they all had to go. The agents also didn’t allow her to speak to her lawyer. “All of us were quickly deported after ICE arrested us,” she added. “At the end, they deported us without caring about my situation and that of my children. It was very sad for us, as we are a peaceful family that never did wrong to anyone.” Karen and her children had arrived in the United States in November 2014.

Currently, Lissette Castillo (Chicago Religious Leadership Network), Reyna Wences (Organized Communities Against Deportations), and Tania Unzueta (Mijente) work to bring more attention to their case. By using social media and a petition, they hope to pressure the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to take action. Eight months have passed since ICE overstepped its bounds. The family never got a chance to fight their case. (You can sign the petition here and learn more about the case here.)

It’s not the first time ICE agents in Chicago have been accused of predatory tactics. In August, ICE racially profiled day laborers on street corners and used biometric fingerprinting machines. Around the United States, it’s not much better. On January 2, 2016, ICE agents banged on René Morales’ door in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Morales – who’s protected under DACA – didn’t open the door because his sister, who arrived from Guatemala in 2014, didn’t have any protection. He waited for them to leave before he stepped outside his home, according to the Huffington Post. However, when he returned, ICE agents threatened him. They told him that if he didn’t allow them to go inside his house to search for a criminal named Miguel Soto, they’d arrest him for obstruction of justice. They ended up detaining his family members.

AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Think Progress reports that ICE didn’t stop at posing as officers looking for suspects. Agents also claimed “they were only taking the immigrants into custody for a short time to examine the women’s electronic ankle shackles.” The shackles monitor some undocumented immigrants as they await court hearings. They’ve entered homes without warrants, and they’ve ignored requests to produce these documents.

A Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) analysis found that ICE continued to target people with no criminal records. TRAC adds that police holds four out of five people detained longer than normal. However, a federal court ruling found that doing this practice violates the Fourth Amendment, according to BuzzFeed.

In Texas, agents told Susana Arévalo that they’d take her to do paperwork. They then told her that the government rejected her asylum application. And they sent Susana and her two children to a family detention center so she could be deported. The agents didn’t allow her to speak to her attorney.