WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill introduced Thursday aims to thwart Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from wearing clothing labeled with the words “police,” arguing the practice is deceiving.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), comes on the heels of images and videos circulating recently that show ICE agents identifying as police officers while conducting raids. Photos of operations dating back years show ICE officers wearing jackets and vests usually reading in large letters: “POLICE ICE.” The legislation would also extend to Customs and Border Protection agents.
“Not only are ICE raids an unconscionable attack on our most vulnerable communities, any attempt by immigration officers to deceivingly pose as local police ought to be prohibited,” Velazquez said in a statement. “After holding various ‘Know Your Rights’ workshops in my district, I’ve heard firsthand from families who fear reporting crime or engaging with the police due to the potential of getting caught up with immigration agents. This only makes our communities less safe.”
Whether ICE agents qualify as true police officers has been a recurring topic of debate.
Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokeswoman, told CNN that ICE agents may sometimes verbally identify themselves as police when they’re going into a situation.
“It is the universally recognized term for law enforcement, and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world,” she said. “In the often-dangerous law enforcement arena, being able to immediately identify yourself as law enforcement may be a life-or-death issue.”
Rodriguez called it accurate for ICE agents to use the term “police.”
“It’s clear that we are a law enforcement agency,” she said. “We have police authority.”
However, officials in some states, such as California, don’t agree. In February, a group of political leaders in Los Angeles issued a letter to ICE officials that called the practice “corrosive.”
“Especially in these turbulent and uncertain times, we urge that ICE agents operating in Los Angeles immediately stop representing that they are ‘police’ officers,” the city’s mayor, attorney and City Council president wrote.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer told CNN that the issue remains a significant concern.
“Irrespective of whether it’s lawful to do that, that begs the question of whether it’s ethical to do it or whether it’s an appropriate policy to do it. It begs the question of whether ICE doing so endangers public safety, which it does,” he said. “ICE misidentifying itself as police officers in my city makes Los Angeles less safe for everyone.”
The California issue led members of Congress last month to sign a letter asking Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to take action against the practice.
“Local law enforcement in our congressional districts have expressed serious concerns that this practice causes confusion and undermines their officers’ efforts to build trust in our immigrant communities,” said the letter, signed by Rep. Mike Thompson of California and dozens of other Democratic lawmakers. “We respectfully urge you to direct ICE to remove the word ‘police’ from all ICE gear.”
The congressional bill has so far generated the support of multiple pro-immigration groups.
“It will help mitigate the abuses related to ICE’s widespread tactic of presenting as local police to enter homes without judicial warrants or set up meetings with individuals only to detain them,” said Mizue Aizeki, deputy director of Immigrant Defense Project.