The Trump administration is deploying special tactical units akin to SWAT teams to Chicago and other sanctuary cities to assist in everyday immigration arrests.
News of the deployment, first reported by The New York Times on Friday, has triggered an immediate response from city officials and immigrant groups who decried the move as an intimidation tactic.
A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection confirmed the planned deployment to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The agency will send 100 officers to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees arrests and deportations in the interior of the country.
Among those being deployed are members of CBP’s elite tactical unit known as BORTAC.
The unit is made up of specially trained agents that focus on high-priority targets like cartel members and human traffickers. BORTAC agents have also conducted missions in several countries and served alongside U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
But in Chicago and other sanctuary cities, BORTAC agents “will be asked to support interior officers in run-of-the-mill immigration arrests,” according to the Times, which cited two officials familiar with the operation.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a video response released by her office Friday evening that the Trump administration is “yet again targeting our immigrant and refugee communities through its usual fear mongering and xenophobia.”
“If anyone thinks that they can come here to our city and terrorize our residents into the shadows, let me say this: they’ve got another thing coming,” she said.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said although it’s not the first time Trump has used federal agents to “target” Chicago, it’s chilling nonetheless.
“It’s extremely important, even if he is crying wolf, that we take this seriously,” he said.
Naureen Shah, senior policy and advocacy counsel on immigrant rights for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the deployment of tactical forces “is transparent retaliation against local governments for refusing to do the administration’s bidding.” She said it “will put lives at risk by further militarizing our streets.”
Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. said “the reported deployment of excessively armed border agents to immigrant-welcoming communities only further illustrates how deranged and divorced from reality this administration’s immigration priorities are.”
Per city law, the Chicago Police Department and all other city agencies are barred from cooperating with ICE except in cases where a targeted undocumented immigrant has an outstanding criminal warrant; has been charged or convicted of a felony; or has been identified by police as a gang member.
Asked if the deployment could have a chilling effect on police-community relations, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said it was important that external law enforcement agents properly identify themselves and don’t just wear uniforms that say “police” on them.
“It is certainly a legitimate concern and creates a false perception for the Chicago Police Department,” he said. “Community trust and relationships are vitally important to us and we work very hard to safeguard those partnerships so we can be most effective in protecting neighborhoods.”
Efforts to protect immigrants
Ramirez-Rosa also fears news of the operation could drop economic activity in immigrant neighborhoods and “depress” local participation in the 2020 U.S. Census.
He said the city is mobilizing to “protect immigrant families.”
“We’re gonna be out knocking on doors, informing residents of their rights, but also making sure that, should immigration officials be present attempting to deport our families, that we’re gonna be prepared to take action to defend one another,” he said.
“That can be yelling, ‘You have a right to remain silent. Don’t tell them anything.’ It can be recording the interaction so we have video to use in the future ... or, it can actually take the form of people using their bodies to engage in non-violent civil disobedience,” he said.
In his record $4.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2021, President Trump requested $3.1 billion in anticipation of a daily average census of 60,000 in ICE detention centers, an increase from the 54,000 requested last year.
Contributing: Sam Charles, Fran Spielman, Nader Issa
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.