Special deployment of border patrol agents are targeting sanctuary cities

By Shirin Ali
Medill Reports

After thwarted efforts by the Trump administration to assert federal authority over the country’s multiple sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump successfully began deploying special border patrol agents across the country in a targeted effort meant to supplement local Immigration and Customs Enforcement field teams.

According to The New York Times’ exclusive announcement of the deployment, Chicago along with the other sanctuary cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark are all expected to receive special agents. This comes as a response to local ICE leadership requesting help in sanctuary jurisdictions where agents indicated a struggle to track down undocumented immigrants without the help of police and other state and local agencies.

Under city law, the Chicago Police Department and other city agencies are not allowed to assist ICE except in specific cases where targeted undocumented immigrants have an outstanding criminal warrant, have been charged or convicted of a felony or have been identified as a gang member by CPD.

Asked to confirm the deployment of special border patrol agents to Chicago, Steven Bansbach, U.S. Customs and Border Protection  public affairs officer of the Chicago field office, responded with an email statement.

“CBP is deploying 100 officers and agents to supplement ICE Enforcement Removal Operations in order to enhance the integrity of the immigration system, protect public safety, and strengthen our national security.”

Bansbach also provided an email statement from the Department of Homeland Security, justifying the need for special border patrol agents as the perceived crisis at the U.S. southern border increases. The statement cited more than 3.2 million non-detained cases in fiscal year 2019, up from 2.6 million in 2018.

Year over year data from U.S. Enforcement and Removal Operations on the number of immigrant removals in Chicago by the ICE local field office. Numbers reflect immigrants considered convicted criminals, pending criminal charges and other immigration violations.

“With 5,300 ERO [Enforcement and Removal Officers] — some of whom were detailed to the border — ICE does not have sufficient resources to effectively manage the sustained increase in non-detained cases which is exacerbated by the rise of sanctuary jurisdictions,” according to the statement.

On March 18, however, ICE announced it would be adjusting its enforcement activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by only pursuing enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. All other regular ICE activity would be delayed until after the crisis, which at this time is unclear.

Despite federal immigration efforts escalating, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stood firm. Responding to the Trump administration’s deployment, Lightfoot’s office released a video statement admonishing the move and categorizing it as fear mongering and xenophobic.

“We will not be bullied, period. To all our neighbors and friends, I want you to know that Chicago stands with you and will always fight to keep you safe. We are a welcoming city and proud of it. No amount of vitriol will make us think otherwise,” Lightfoot said.

In blunt terms, Lightfoot reiterated the grounds for which ICE is allowed to enter immigrants’ homes and the boundary line between CPD and ICE.

“Know that just because someone knocks at your door, you don’t have to answer it. They need a warrant signed by a judge, nothing less. I also want to remind you that we have banned Chicago’s police officers and other city employees from assisting federal agents in any civil immigration enforcement efforts,” Lightfoot said. “You have power, and you are not alone.”

Many of the special agents being deployed to sanctuary cities such as Chicago come with various backgrounds in immigration. In particular, agents previously assigned to Border Patrol Tactical Unit [BORTAC], CBP’s elite tactical unit which has conducted missions in several countries alongside U.S. military personnel in Iraq, will be part of the deployment.

“While some of them are trained in tactical operations, that is one of the many areas of training. These officers have also been trained in routine immigration enforcement actions which is what they have been asked to do,” stated Bansbach via email.

BORTAC typically conducts high-risk operations involving violent offenders, drugs and weapons. The use of BORTAC in civil infractions is considered unusual as they are not permitted to forcibly enter properties to make arrests. BORTAC will likely increase the number of agents on the ground locally but their direct involvement in hand-to-hand arrests is unclear.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, felt this recent deployment was more of an intimidation tactic than a necessitated demand.

“This is a qualitative escalation. That is a greater use of force, greater display of force, all for the purpose of intimidating communities. That’s the element that makes this particular tactic somewhat unusual and different from what we’ve seen previously,” Tsao said.

Deploying special border patrol agents to the country’s sanctuary cities is one move among many since Trump took office in an attempt to crackdown on illegal immigration. Beginning with Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S. southern border, the Trump administration in 2017 attempted to withhold billions of dollars of federal funding from local jurisdictions, including sanctuary cities, that did not fully cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. San Francisco judge William H. Orrick declared the order was overstepping Trump’s presidential authority.

Tsao also attributed the deployment to a campaigning tactic, helping supplement Trump’s reelection campaign.

“It certainly does not surprise me that this administration would be seeking to further accelerate its enforcement activity, particularly in an election and while the primaries are happening,” Tsao said. “It seems like an effort to intimidate immigrant communities from fully participating in our body politic.”

There are many resources available to Chicago’s immigrant communities to combat the uncertainties of potential deportation. ICIRR has a family support hotline that provides pre-recorded information about immigration enforcement as well as support staff ready to take live calls. The hotline also serves as an intake center, tracking immigration raids when reported by Chicago’s communities.

“All of this has been in place for the last 10 years. Obviously over the last two or three years we’ve had to deploy this system much more often. There has been an increasing number of calls to the hotline, as well as reports of immigration enforcement activity,” Tsao said.

The deployment of special border patrol agents comes on the heels of another big immigration win for the Trump administration. As of Feb. 24, the inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds rule goes into effect. This new policy expands the Immigration Act of 1882, broadening the terms on which an immigrant could be considered primarily dependent on the government for assistance, categorized as a “public charge.” This new federal ruling only applies to immigrants applying for legal entry into the U.S., visas or green cards. Undocumented immigrants are typically ineligible for federal benefit programs.

The deployment of special border patrol officers to Chicago along with the new public charge rule has created fear and confusion among immigrant communities.

“It’s intended to discourage immigrants from using public benefits in much the same that the BORTEC deployment seems intended to intimidate immigrants from participating in their communities,” Tsao said.

As immigrant communities in Chicago and across the country attempt to safeguard against the recent changes to federal immigration policy, having the cooperation from local and state governments will be vital.

Illinois and the city of Chicago have a history of passing immigrant friendly legislation and ordinances as a sanctuary city for more than 30 years. Undocumented people can access city services, will not be asked about their immigration status by city employees and the city prohibits city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Most recently in December, the Chicago City Council passed the Accountability on Communication and Transparency (ACT). The ordinance prevents CPD from sharing its databases related to civil immigration enforcement activities with ICE while also requiring CPD to document any requests made by federal immigration authorities for assistance.

“Those were very strong moves on the part of the Lightfoot administration,” Tsao said. “We still need to make sure that that ordinance gets fully implemented and we still need to make other fixes to the ordinance to make sure everybody is covered by it,” Tsao said.

Since Trump took office in 2016 immigration has been on the forefront of his administration’s agenda, especially targeting sanctuary cities and their refusal to implement federal orders. The 2020 election cycle brings an air of uncertainty to what direction the country will go with its stance on immigration.

“The city itself is standing strong and immigrant communities ourselves are standing strong and we’re going to do our best to withstand the pressure and intimidation tactics of this federal administration,” Tsao said. “We’re going to make sure we’re going to be counted in the census and make sure our voices get heard in the elections.”

Photo at top: Officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations make an arrest at Union Station in early February. (ICE Media)