Leaked memo details ICE media strategy to counter citizen activist groups

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 29, 2010 19:38 EDT
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Call this a crash course in how federal agencies use the press to advance their own advocacy.

A memo leaked from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is has immigration reform activist groups up in arms, calling the government’s plans to argue on behalf of its programs “unbelievable” and an “an aggressive strategy for spin and deception.”

The document details how the agency was to respond amid a host of planned protests against the so-called “Secure Communities” program. It reveals that ICE targeted major media in eight cities where activists planned their rallies, securing space in publications like The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Maimi Herald, The Washington Examiner and others.

“On the day of the launch, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton placed opinion-editorials in Atlanta, Georgia; Miami, Florida; and Morristown, New Jersey—all sites of the campaign,” noted Uncover the Truth, a joint advocacy campaign set up by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other non-governmental groups.

Additionally, it explains that the agency “will arrange for [Assistant Secretary] Morton to be interviewed by Julia Preston from The New York Times, Suzanne Gamboa from the Associated Press, Antonieta Cádiz from La Opinion and possibly Lori Montenegro from Telemundo.”

“ICE’s unbelievable offensive against activists organizing for truth and accountability must be challenged,” CCR attorney Sunita Patel said in a media advisory. “Rather than sticking to the promise of transparency, the Obama administration is hiding behind misinformation and attacking civil society. The quest for answers is even more compelling and begs the question: what is ICE hiding?”

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Hoping to obtain answers to just that question, the campaign has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for data related to the “Security Communities” program, which the agency says leverages technology to track down and capture what it calls “criminal aliens.”

In his editorial, Morton opened with a tale of a California man who’d left Bible study, only to be run down by an illegal immigrant driving while intoxicated.

“Since beginning the program in October 2008, ICE has deployed the fingerprint technology to more than 165 jurisdictions across 20 states,” he wrote. “We deploy to more places every week. As a result, we have removed more than 33,000 aliens convicted of crimes — aliens who may have otherwise been released back onto our streets and into our neighborhoods.

“As ICE expands this program nationwide, we meet regularly with local law enforcement agencies, national and local nongovernmental organizations, media and others to ensure the public understands that ICE is using this race-neutral program to identify and remove criminal aliens, thereby relieving the burden on state and local governments.”

Morton was nominated to serve as ICE assistant secretary by President Obama on Feb. 23, 2009.

A large part of the “Secure Communities” program is federal coordination of local law enforcement. The leaked memo apparently reveals this coordination even applies to “messaging,” as it claims ICE would reach out to encourage press officers to speak with the media, going so far as to offer sound bytes and talking points.

“It is deeply disturbing that ICE responded to our simple request for truth and accountability with an aggressive strategy for spin and deception,” countered Sarahi Uribe, an organizer with Uncover the Truth. “At a time when its clear that the federal government’s irresponsibility gave rise to the crisis in Arizona, rights groups now feel under attack for demanding basic answers from our government.”

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It was revealed in Dec. 2009 that ICE maintains a network of unlisted immigrant detention centers across the United States, calling them “subfield offices,” where they hold an unknown number of people. The Nation magazine placed the number of “subfield offices” at 186, noting that the facilities have no beds or showers, are not subject to ICE Detention Standards and most are located “in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants”.

At least 100 immigrant prisoners have died while in ICE custody, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The following document is an internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo detailing the agency’s media strategy to counter activist citizen groups.

ICE Media Strategy

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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