ICE postpones controversial ‘Citizens Academy’ in Chicago

Two weeks before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was expected to start a “Citizens Academy,” the federal agency announced it was postponing it because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sandra Diaz, Mano a Mano, speaks with the media during a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr. in the South Loop, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

Sandra Diaz, Mano a Mano, speaks with the media during a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr. in the South Loop, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Thursday it was postponing a controversial six-week “Citizens Academy” that was slated to start later this month in Chicago.

Immigration advocates hailed the postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic as a temporary victory.

Advocates associated with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights had sent nearly 1,000 emails to ICE demanding it cancel the academy, now slated for the spring.

“This decision to postpone the academy is definitely a result of the pressure that was put on by many organizations, not just local but across the country,” said Rey Wences, of the Organized Communities Against Deportations.

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ICE previously said the academy would be modeled after other law enforcement academies and would include an overview of immigration history, a demonstration of the training immigration officers go through, a tour of a jail housing detainees and information about the division that oversees flights that deport people.

“The Citizens Academy also affords ICE the opportunity to hear from participants, understand their perspectives and debunk myths,” ICE said in a news release.

But advocates decried the academy as an example of white supremacy, saying it would lead to more fear among the immigrant community.

Immigrant-rights groups throughout the country fear that after an academy is launched in Chicago, it will spread to other cities, Wences said.

Immigration advocates plan to move forward on Sept. 15 with their “people’s academy,” which was meant to counter the start of the ICE academy, Wences said. The advocates have also been hosting weekly webinars, with some drawing more than 100 participants, to inform the public about how ICE operates.

“We believe that this is not a time to slow down,” Wences said. “This is another reassurance that our movement can make an impact.”

Wences said a family support hotline recently set up for immigrant families has seen an increase in calls, as the federal agency continues to detain and deport people in the Chicago area.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, OCAD, and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression noted they still were challenging other federal policies, including the government’s refusal to accept new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“We know this fight is not over,” the groups said in their statement. “We need to mobilize against the administration’s deployment of agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies attacking and detaining protesters calling for racial justice and an end to police violence.”

ICE said it wouldn’t accept any more applications for the Citizens Academy and would reach out to people who had applied to see if they were available in the spring.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. 

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