On March 27, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents unleashed terror on residents of a northwest Chicago home when an agent shot and seriously wounded a man in a house where eight family members were present, including a child as young as one.
“They didn’t say anything. They just came in and pointed pistols in our faces and dragged us out,” Carmen Torres, the daughter of the wounded man, Felix Torres, told local news outlet DNA Info. “We didn’t even have time to dress or grab milk for the baby.”
Torres’ lawyer, Thomas Hallock, said in an interview with CBS Chicago, “He was shot immediately, or almost immediately, upon opening his door to see what the commotion was outside of his residence.”
ICE claimed an unidentified man pointed a gun at agents during the course of an arrest, but produced no evidence and admitted that Torres, 53, was not the individual targeted by the invasion. “It’s a lie when they say he was holding a gun. He doesn’t even own a gun,” Carmen Torres said. “They shot my dad. They shot him, and I don’t know why.”
People’s Response Team, Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) and Mijente issued a joint statement declaring the shooting “shows that immigration raids make our communities unsafe and expose the heightened militarized tactics utilized by ICE to detain people in our communities.”
“The Chicago ICE Field office and its director, Ricardo Wong, have repeatedly planned and executed violent raids in homes, work places, churches, and locations where our communities are supposed to feel safe,” the statement said. “These raids have involved firearms, physical force, threats, manipulation, biometric fingerprinting machines, and ruses with the intent to force their way into people’s homes. These are clear violations of our communities civil and human rights.”
The shooting took place in a city whose communities are already forced to endure a police department with a proven history of racist violence. A September 2014 report by We Charge Genocide found that black residents are 10 times more likely to be shot by the CPD than their white counterparts. A Department of Justice investigation released in January confirmed that the Chicago Police Department is perpetrating harassment, “unreasonable” killings and systematic civil rights violations against the people of Chicago.
For residents who have been organizing to stop the violence of the Chicago Police Department, the deployment of federal law enforcement only compounds the harm inflicted.
“The recent shooting reveals how Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are essentially cops,” said Timmy Rose of the People’s Response Team. “This means that the communities they are targeting will be subject to the same militarized violence and brutality, the institutionalized racism, that has been most commonly associated with local police forces like the Chicago Police Department.”
‘One of the great historical crimes of our day’
When Donald Trump unveiled two hardline, anti-immigrant executive orders on January 25, he proclaimed that the Department of Homeland Security is fundamentally a law enforcement agency. “For too long, your officers and agents haven’t been allowed to properly do their jobs,” he told DHS in a televised address. “From here on out, I’m asking all of you to enforce the laws of the United States of America. They will be enforced, and they will be enforced strongly.”
While poised to escalate under the Trump administration, violence from immigration authorities is nothing new. According to March 2016 testimony submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union to the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, at least 51 people have died “as the result of an encounter with CBP officials” since January 2010. Among those killed were six individuals who were shot on Mexican soil, three of them teenagers aged 15,16 and 17. “In numerous cases, individuals were shot multiple times, including through the back,” the report notes.
On May 28, 2010, border agents near the San Ysidro Port of Entry beat and tasered 42-year-old San Diego resident Anastasio Hernández Rojas to death while he was handcuffed and immobile on the ground, video evidence shows. According to the ACLU, “The San Diego coroner’s office classified Anastasio’s death as a homicide, recording in addition to a heart attack: ‘several loose teeth; bruising to his chest, stomach, hips, knees, back, lips, head and eyelids; five broken ribs; and a damaged spine.’”
The harrowing acts of violence go back further. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, “on-duty Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers have killed at least 42 people, including at least 13 Americans” between 2005 and 2013. Journalists Bob Ortega and Rob O’Dell write, “In none of the 42 deaths is any agent or officer publicly known to have faced consequences — not from the Border Patrol, not from Customs and Border Protection or Homeland Security, not from the Department of Justice, and not, ultimately, from criminal or civil courts.”
In 2014, the American Immigration Council reported that, through a FOIA request, it learned of at least 809 charges of abuse against Border Patrol Agents registered between 2009 and 2012. “These cases run the gamut of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse,” the council noted, concluding: “One of the most revealing findings of this report concerns the prevailing lack of action taken by CBP officials in response to the complaints received.”
Yet, the actual number of deaths and disappearances at the hands of immigration authorities is far higher. According to a December 2016 report by the Arizona-based organizations Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, border patrol agents have been driving a crisis of deaths and missing persons in the borderlands, with a death toll in the thousands since the 1990s.
“Border Patrol agents chase border crossers through the remote terrain and utilize the landscape as a weapon to slow down, injure, and apprehend them,” the report states, noting that such chases “lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration, blisters and sprains, injuries due to falls, and drownings.” Meanwhile, border patrol agents “regularly assault border crossers at the culmination of a chase.” In remote areas, excessive force often takes the form of “beatings, tasers, dog attacks, and assault with vehicles,” the report states. “Whether by pursuing individuals into rivers, over cliffs, or deep into the desert, what may be framed as a ‘never-ending game’ by agents on the ground contributes, in the end, to a disturbing pattern of state-sanctioned disappearance.”
“We assert that the known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the U.S.–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day,” the report concludes.
Violent sweeps have not been limited to the borderlands. In December 2013, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice released a report detailing an ICE-enforced program of “race-based community raids” known as the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative. According to Saket Soni, the executive director of the workers’ center, the program enforced “indiscriminate community raids at apartment complexes, grocery stores, laundromats, Bible study groups, and parks based purely on racial profiling.”
‘We continue to demand accountability’
Under Trump, this federal police force is poised to expand even more. To enforce his executive orders on immigration, Trump says he intends to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 more ICE officers. This would inflate the forces of an agency that already grew significantly under President Obama. According to the American Immigration Council, “The number of Border Patrol agents deployed between ports of entry roughly doubled from 10,717 in FY 2003 to 21,394 in FY 2012. At the same time, the number of CBP officers working at ports of entry grew from 17,279 to 21,423. And the number of ICE agents devoted to Enforcement and Removal Operations more than doubled from 2,710 to 6,338.”
Immigration authorities have already been staging aggressive sweeps and arrests across the country, detaining people at courthouses and in their homes, and going after prominent migrant justice leaders. Meanwhile, there is evidence that raids are being orchestrated by DHS to target jurisdictions that have sanctuary policies in place aimed at limiting cooperation between local police and ICE. The Trump administration is vowing to punish sanctuary cities by withholding some federal funds.
In light of these assaults, people across the country are demanding protections from the double threat of state-sponsored violence on the local and federal levels. The Movement for Black Lives is teaming up with Mijente to advance sanctuary campaigns across the United States that defend protections from criminalization at the hands of police and immigration authorities.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sought to portray himself as a defender of sanctuary, recently declaring, “We’re going to stay a sanctuary city. Wherever you came from, you’re welcome here.”
But the People’s Response Team’s Rose told AlterNet, “The mayor labels Chicago a sanctuary city, yet the amount of collaboration between the departments is very unclear. Even operating separately, police and ICE pose a risk of violence against communities. A shooting like this shows that ICE agents are just as dangerous as cops.”
The ICE Chicago Field Office and the office of Mayor Emanuel did not immediately return a request for comment. Reached by phone, the Chicago Police Department referred AlterNet to a prior statement released by the agency in which it acknowledged its intention to collaborate with DHS regarding the aftermath of the shooting. “CPD will investigate the underlying criminal offense and work with DHS and the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois,” the force declared. AlterNet was told to direct any followup questions to ICE.
In their joint statement, People’s Response Team, Organized Communities Against Deportations and Mijente declared that “our communities’ needs have not been met and have been further destabilized by the city of Chicago’s divestment from mental health clinics, schools, and public programming. It is not enough to have police and ICE break ties—both agencies receive heavy funding from local and federal government, funding that could instead be used to invest in our black, brown and immigrant communities.”
“ICE and police have taken our sanity, our safety, and our humanity hostage,” the organizations added. “We continue to demand accountability for the well-being of our communities, and adamantly seek justice for every individual who has been irreparably wronged by this system.”