Keeping the Public Eye on ICE

Voices from the grassroots show resolute commitment for radical change.

Abroad coalition of immigrant rights groups is putting a spotlight on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—the rogue federal agency that has wreaked havoc in immigrant communities.

Over the past two months, thirty Eyes on ICE: Truth and Accountability Forums were held across the United States and in Mexico. They featured 150 immigrants and activists describing how ICE agents have instilled fear as they separated families in order to feed the deportation machine.

Under Biden, deportations have continued, despite his call for a 100-day moratorium. And ICE’s detention population edged upward to 16,721 in early May.

“We will continue with the struggle for what we are asking for and have a right to,” said Ayde, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, at the April 23 forum. “We deserve to live with dignity.”

Ayde described how her partner, Juan, was detained by ICE for fourteen months, her oldest son was deported, and her youngest son was traumatized by Juan’s absence. A longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay area, Ayde spoke with a bold determination typical of many of the witnesses testifying at the forums.

Almost all of these events were virtual and featured immigrants helped by local host organizations. In Ayde’s case, it was the Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose, California.

Mijente, a Latinx rights group, is spearheading the Eyes on ICE forums, which are part of the We Are Home Campaign. No one doubted that taking on ICE—a bloated bureaucracy with an $8 billion annual budget and more than 20,000 employees—would be a formidable but necessary task.

“What we are dealing with is a kind of octopus monster,” says Jacinta González, senior campaign organizer for Mijente. “Cutting off one arm doesn’t mean the octopus doesn’t exist. But we know this limits the amount of contact and control that they can have over our communities.”

Eyes on ICE has six demands, including an end to immigration detention and deportation, with an overall goal of citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Addressing the April 3 forum hosted by the Adelante Alabama Worker Center, Iris, who is from Honduras, told how in 2019 her son, Jorge, was arrested for speeding. She went to the county jail in Birmingham to pick him up but was told to come back the next day, which she did.

“To my surprise, he wasn’t there anymore,” said Iris. “ICE had stopped by and taken him.”

Undocumented, Jorge spent about seven months at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana, before his release for a future immigration court hearing.

Stopping collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement is not only an Eyes on ICE goal but also an objective of the New Way Forward Act that Congressional Democrats introduced in January, with thirty-nine co-sponsors.

“It is time that we disentangle local law enforcement from federal law enforcement,” said Representative Jesús “Chuy” García, Democrat of Illinois, at the March 30 forum.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has yet to spell out how ICE will connect with local law enforcement in the future. But at a recent UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy conference, Mayorkas defended the state criminal justice system’s handing over an immigrant who had served time for a felony offense to ICE for deportation.

Under Biden, deportations have continued, despite his call for a 100-day moratorium. And ICE’s detention population edged upward to 16,721 in early May.

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James Goodman