Tactical forces are descending upon Massachusetts. What is the existential threat that brought this about? A hunt for the undocumented among us.
WBUR reported last week that “SWAT-like immigration officers” are in Boston, and possibly will be coming to other parts of Massachusetts. Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Matthew Albence told the news agency that the tactically-trained officers will be in Boston due to “resource challenges stemming from sanctuary city policies.”
What are those challenges exactly? According to Albence, because local communities have policies disallowing local police and jails to hand over anyone ICE asks for, those people — if they have not committed crimes — are released back into the community. “When sanctuary cities release these criminals back to the street, it increases the occurrence of preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims,” Albence said.
If they were criminals, they would need to be convicted in our justice system. What has happened is our country has criminalized seeking sanctuary from violence abroad or simply being from another country.
Our immigration enforcement officials are crossing the line into becoming a jack-booted army of those seeking vigilante “justice.” The time really has come to abolish this out of control agency, an arm of the executive branch which has no meaningful check or balance.
History is full of these ugly scenes — leaders abusing law enforcement powers to scapegoat minorities. If this is how ICE is going to be used, it becomes easier and easier to justify the calls to eliminate the agency — a relatively new force established in 2003 under then-President George W. Bush as an expansion of the security state. It didn’t take long for it to get corrupted to the point where the most militarized elements are being used in our own cities — which just happen to be passing ordinances in opposition to the edicts of our current president.
Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley has rightly called out this move for what it is: an intimidation tactic by the Trump administration on those who dare oppose his policy of scapegoating migrants.
“Let us be clear, this move has nothing to do with public safety, but rather serves only to further the Trump Administration’s agenda to intimidate and retaliate against cities that uphold the dignity and humanity of our immigrant neighbors,” Pressley said in a statement.
Freed from any semblance of accountability through the cowardly impeachment acquittal vote of Senate Republicans, Trump now has a free hand to do as he pleases — which includes acts of judicial sabotage with the Justice Department (as seen in calling for a lighter sentence for associate Roger Stone), and now with these tactical ICE squads sent to communities opposed enough to Trump to pass humane immigrant policies.
The New York Times described the elite tactical units deployed in cities across the interior of the U.S. as being equipped with stun grenades and enhanced Special Forces-type training, including sniper certification. Originally, these people were trained to conduct high-risk operations targeting violent drug and weapons smugglers, many with extensive criminal records.
Based on the precedent of the Trump administration eliminating any differentiation between violent criminals and undocumented immigrants, they may be used on people like those who are seeking sanctuary in our own communities — people like longtime undocumented Valley resident Lucio Perez, who was arrested based on a misunderstanding and had charges dropped against him, but is now living in sanctuary in a church in Amherst just to have the chance to see his family.
As was clear in reporting from a 2017 Advocate article on paramilitarized local police forces, turning military-style training inward can do immense damage and is a colossal mistake. When military weapons and training are used against low-level offenders and targets based on immigration or minority status, it gets harder and harder to argue that we don’t have our own version of the Gestapo forming in the United States.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.