ICE Chicago Citizens Academy faces criticism from activists

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The agency's very name strikes fear in the hearts of undocumented immigrants, many of whom live waiting for that proverbial knock at at the door that might end in deportation.

It's an image that ICE itself is now looking to change.

"There's information that perpetuates that we just go to the corner and say 'hey Barbara Gonzalez, you look Latina, can we see your papers?' That's not how we operate," said Barbara Gonzalez, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer.

"We're prioritizing those who pose the greatest threat to our community," she said.

Starting in September, ICE will offer a 6-week Chicago Citizens Academy that they say is designed to teach community members what ICE agents do and don't do.

An invitation letter read in part, "Attendees will participate in scenario-based training and exercises conducted in a safe and positive environment, including, but not limited to defensive tactics, firearms familiarization, and targeted arrests."

"We see what we're seeing in the community. We see what we're seeing in ICE detention facilities. Some of us have even gone to O'Hare airport witnessing the deportation flights taking place," said Fred Tsao, wit the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "If it is a PR attempt, I don't see this succeeding. I even question why they're doing this."

"We're talking about a citizens academy that sounds like a vigilante academy," said 33 Ward Alderman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez. "We don't want our neighbors to be scared of their neighbors, so we're sending a letter to the director of ICE in Chicago to suspend the training."

ICE insists nothing sinister about the name. It is the same one used at similar law enforcement seminars around the country.

"We want to be transparent. We want to open our doors to see firsthand what we do, how we do it, why we do it and at the end of the day it's about protecting Chicagoans and protecting everyone," Gonzalez said.

Twelve people will be part of the pilot course which will be held here at ICE's field office, every Tuesday starting September 15. Anyone who is in the country legally, is able to apply.
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