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ICE Says It Won’t Round Up Immigrants at the Super Bowl. Should Minnesotans Believe Them?

Tina Vasquez

Although ICE claims it will not be in Minnesota to conduct immigration enforcement and Minneapolis is designated as a so-called sanctuary city, residents say there is still cause for concern.

This year’s Super Bowl will be held Sunday in Minneapolis and will bring with it the largest security effort ever seen by the state and the National Football League (NFL). Advocates told Rewire these security efforts, which will involve Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), will subject undocumented immigrants and communities of color to unprecedented levels of enforcement, despite what the agencies have said about their intentions.

ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will be present at the Super Bowl as part of “Operation Team Player,” an anti-counterfeit effort that, according to a spokesperson from ICE, is a priority because counterfeiting “wreaks havoc on the economy,” “funds criminal organizations involved in other crimes like drugs,” and presents “a serious health and safety hazard.”

“Operation Team Player was initiated because wearing apparel and accessories are the number one most-seized item from year to year. Much of that is counterfeit sports-related merchandise, so we developed a strategic effort to increase intellectual property enforcement actions during major sporting events like the Super Bowl,” ICE’s spokesperson said. “HSI has conducted increased [intellectual property] enforcement actions at every Super Bowl since 2013.”

The spokesperson said that while intellectual property enforcement is “a primary effort,” ICE HSI will partner with the Minneapolis Police Department for “various enforcement actions” and “conduct joint security efforts.” The federal immigration agency asserted that Operation Team Player “is not related to immigration enforcement” and agents will not check or request identification of anyone “who wasn’t selling counterfeit goods or suspected to be involved in the sale of counterfeit goods.”

Although ICE claims it will not be in Minnesota to conduct immigration enforcement and Minneapolis is designated as a so-called sanctuary city, residents say there is still cause for concern. 

“Minneapolis is no exception to the increased level of fear and anxiety immigrant communities are feeling since this administration took office,” state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) told Rewire in a phone interview. “While our city may have policies in place that protect undocumented immigrants’ rights, monitoring the situation with this many people coming into our city and this much security present, is a very challenging task.”

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Torres Ray told Rewire her biggest concern is the possibility of undocumented immigrants experiencing collateral arrests for being in the area, should a drunken fight break out, for example, and many people are swept up at once.

“Because of how big this event is and how chaotic it will be, I’m afraid days will pass before we know people have been picked up. Their families, already afraid because of this administration and because of this increase in security, won’t know why they got picked up or where they are. Even if they don’t get transferred to [ICE custody], families have no way of knowing what happened. We know that the presence of the federal government, the National Guard, the police, it’s all intended to protect us, but there are also people in our community who are vulnerable and this kind of surveillance does not make them safe.” 

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez, a former union organizer who is now the editor of Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the United States, told Rewire that immigrants who are members of the local hotel workers union are concerned about the security they’ll be subjected to for simply trying to go to work. This is why he’s personally advising people that if at all possible, to “stay the fuck out” of the area surrounding the stadium.

“If you read what’s been published by the media here about the upcoming Super Bowl, it’s a lot of bragging from officials about the level of surveillance, the number of cameras, etc.,” said Gomez. “There’s not a lot of thought being put into how this impacts people in our community who already experience criminalization, people not attending the game who are just trying to get to work.”

There are multiple levels of security on game day, according to Gomez, who has written extensively about the level of enforcement Minneapolis will soon see, which will include “hundreds of officers from 60 police departments across the state, 40 federal agencies, [and] the [National] Guard,” the Star Tribune reported

CBP announced Friday morning that it will be on the scene to provide additional security in and around U.S Bank Stadium, where the game will take place. According to the federal immigration agency, it will have canine teams patrol the area and will be responsible for scanning deliveries that enter the premises. CBP’s Air and Marine Operations will coordinate with other federal, state, and local law enforcement, CBP noted on its website. 

This week when ICE announced its HSI team will be in full effect at the Super Bowl, complete with an animated image of agents holding assault rifles, it was a surprise to Torres Ray.

“I was never made aware of ICE’s presence at any Super Bowl, but especially not the one taking place in our city—and I say that as an elected official,” Torres Ray said. “We [elected officials] were made aware of various details concerning the Super Bowl, including the cost of deploying the National Guard, but the actual scale of the federal government’s security measures, including the presence of ICE, we didn’t know that until they were on our doorstep.”

The city has been keeping the specifics of its Super Bowl plans mostly out of the public eye. In the years leading up the Super Bowl, anticipating the event would harm and displace Minneapolis communities, Public Records Media (PRM), a Minnesota nonprofit that uses freedom of information laws to inform the public, filed multiple Data Practices Act and Freedom of Information Act requests relating to the city’s plans. The organization found that “the actual Super Bowl bid submitted to the NFL, outlining monies and commitments, is not available to the public,” Gomez wrote. He added that the city also claims that it does not have a copy and police officials have refused to release information regarding budgets for the Super Bowl.  

City officials have expressed concern about the level of security being deployed, including Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher, who asked at a recent briefing if all of a sudden there would be “gated checkpoints” in the neighborhood. He was assured there wouldn’t be, but local media this week has detailed how Minneapolis is quickly taking on a “military feel.”

Torres Ray, wanting to use the worldwide attention the Super Bowl receives, recently participated in an action outside the stadium to shed light on how people of color and indigenous communities in Minnesota experience some of the largest disparities and inequities in the nation when it comes to indicators for well-being. After learning more about the extent of the federal government’s reach for the event, Torres Ray said she had more questions than answers. For example, the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE and CBP, has given the sporting event a “Level 1 ‘special event assessment rating’ … the highest security designation available,” the Star Tribune reported.

“I just want to know why Minnesota—why do we have the largest security effort in Super Bowl history? If it’s an unprecedented level of security, and it is, there has to be a reason. Why in this state at this moment—and why is ICE coming here?” Torres Ray said.

Gomez said that concerns around ICE at the Super Bowl, whether or not immigration enforcement will actually take place, needs to be viewed through the lens of ICE’s increase in interior enforcement in the Midwest. ICE’s nationwide immigration raids began last February and in March, they came to MinneapolisIn a video taken in May that went viral, a Minneapolis transit officer was seen asking a train rider if he was “here illegally.”

An October 2017 Request for Information from ICE revealed the agency wanted “to identify multiple possible detention sites to hold criminal aliens and other immigration violators” in the greater Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, and Salt Lake City areas. Meaning, according to Gomez’s reporting, that the federal immigration agency aimed to expand by as many as 30,000 beds in mostly Midwest cities.

“We’re seeing this slow encroachment of ICE in our city, and it scares me,” Gomez said. “Whatever benefits the city may argue the Super Bowl brings, those benefits are stratified and the same could be said about the security. Sure, people going to the game will enjoy themselves and feel safe, but for the rest of the community, Black people, undocumented immigrants, it just drastically increases their chances of being arrested or detained.”

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