Immigrant rights advocates on Tuesday delivered Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests to every Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in the country, demanding to know more about Operation Mega, an immigration enforcement action expected to result in a “historic” number of arrests.
A source within ICE notified Detention Watch Network (DWN) that Operation Mega, which aimed to detain up to 10,000 immigrants over a five-day span, was set to launch September 16. But ICE delayed the operation, citing weather conditions in states like Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In a media call Tuesday organized by DWN and immigrant rights organization Mijente, advocates said they had no reason to believe ICE’s claim that Operation Mega has been cancelled.
“They are targeting thousands of people with their nativist agenda and this is an agency that has repeatedly lied and hidden information from the public. We know we can’t take ICE officials at their word,” said Danny Cendejas, organizing director of DWN. “We will continue to pressure ICE and continue to fight to end all raids.”
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In a statement to Rewire, a spokesperson from ICE said they could not confirm receipt of any FOIA requests filed yesterday, “as it takes up to 10 business days for ICE’s FOIA staff to process and confirm receipt of a FOIA that is properly submitted.”
“There is currently no coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time,” the ICE spokesperson added.
Advocates who participated in the nationwide action at ICE field offices said that publicly delivering FOIA requests was a way to hold the federal immigration agency accountable. The requests were issued by undocumented people and city council members alike.
Tania Unzueta, legal and policy director for Mijente, said in a statement that ICE has acted “with impunity.”
“As they prepare to raid our communities, we’re preparing to force it’s corruption into public view and to protect and defend our loved ones,” Unzueta said.
This was echoed by Erika Almiron, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based immigrant rights organization Juntos. Almiron participated in the FOIA action with a coalition of more than 25 organizations, an event they billed as a demand from immigrants to ICE: “Show us your papers!”
“The Trump administration has let loose an unaccountable agency against our people. The recent announcement of Operation Mega is the latest in a list of rogue tactics aimed at our community,” Almiron said in a statement. “Since the federal government isn’t checking their corruption, we are filing FOIAs locally and across the country to begin to monitor it and bring it to light.”
The goal of the FOIA requests was not just to learn more about Operation Mega’s origins and whether it was actually cancelled. Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente’s field director, said that large-scale raids targeting immigrant communities will clearly continue under Trump, but the FOIA requests will ensure the raids are carried out under constitutional standards.
ICE has a history of violating rights, Gonzalez said, including not honoring a person’s right to remain silent and not making it clear that people don’t have to open their doors to agents unless they have a signed warrant. Gonzalez said the FOIA requests were a way to learn with whom ICE was collaborating to carry out Operation Mega, with local law enforcement agencies and state attorneys general as possible partners.
During Tuesday’s call, Mary Small, policy director at DWN, outlined how Operation Mega is tied to funding concerns. “The entire impetus for Operation Mega likely stems from pressure to achieve maximum capacity in immigrant detention centers to make a case to Congress for the unnecessary funding increases requested by the administration,” DWN said in a statement.
“This was deliberately planned at the end of the fiscal year to manufacture a higher number of people in detention as justification for increased funding from Congress—and we want to know how much money will be spent, how many overtime hours will be spent on this cruel raid,” Small said. “This is all very much part of the machinery of ICE to turn human beings into bureaucratic tools with dollar signs attached. When Congress settled funding a few months ago, it reprimanded ICE for spending money it didn’t have. Over the summer, ICE went back to Congress and asked for more. Operation Mega is part of this same injustice, and it’s written into the DNA of ICE. This is an agency that lies and hides information from public view, and this secrecy isn’t accidental. The secrecy is a byproduct of ICE.”
When asked to respond to these allegations, the ICE spokesperson would only say that the federal immigration agency is “responsible for enforcing the nation’s immigration laws as enacted by Congress. ICE deportation officers are committed to enforcing the laws they have sworn to uphold, and carrying out final orders of removal professionally and in accordance with law.”
The source within ICE who alerted DWN to Operation Mega told the organization that immigrants with orders for removal and those who have had prior contact with the criminal justice system would be targeted, but that a bulk of those detained will be “collateral arrests.” This means that undocumented immigrants in the vicinity of the person targeted for arrest will also be detained. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to Haitian immigrants expires in January and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was rescinded by President Trump last week. It is unknown whether these two communities of immigrants will be targeted in Operation Mega or account for collateral arrests.
“It’s important to understand that the efforts made to get rid of DACA and TPS, alongside the threats of these raids, is a wholesale attack by this administration against our communities,” Cendejas said. “This operation and the wide targeting of immigrant communities is something we take very seriously. It’s sad we have a nativist, racist administration targeting people of color and all immigrants, but the best way to fight is to protect each other and organize.”