New ICE data exposes vast underreporting

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New information reveals that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is even more corrupt, disingenuous and cruel than previously imagined. 

ICE terrorized the Austin community last February, scrambling to arrest immigrants with jobs, families and clean criminal records. ICE officials reported at the time that they seized 51 immigrants, more than half of whom had no criminal history. 

That number was a lie. Replying to a public information request from the Texas Observer — a request nearly a year old — ICE recently released an internal count revealing that they captured 132 immigrants in the Austin area. That’s nearly three times the number they originally reported.

An ICE official tried to shrug off this inconsistency by explaining that ICE arrested 51 immigrants — the number originally reported to media — during an operation between Feb. 9 and 10. The other 81 arrests were made on Feb. 11 through 12, and were not reported to the public. The official claimed that a two-day national operation coincided with a four-day regional operation, confusing the figures. Clearly, neither he nor the other ICE officials bothered to explain this to the media last February, staying silent while false data was reported over and over.

Many are cynical about ICE’s “explanation.” As Bob Libal, an Austin immigrants’ rights advocate, told the Texas Observer, “The fact that ICE can’t keep their story straight on what they did is reflective of ICE lying about their intentions and the scope of their actions. … If this is their excuse, when they’re pressed on what they did, it’s ridiculous.”

The whole situation is disgraceful. Not only did a national law enforcement agency brutalize and terrify peaceful and productive members of the Austin community, but they hushed up their own actions. At worst, ICE intentionally misconstrued data to vastly underreport the number of arrests made. At best, they made a legitimate mistake in their reporting, but then lacked the courage or integrity to correct the misleading information being fed to the Austin community. 

ICE has already been exposed for similar types of fraud. On Feb. 10 of last year, as ICE was launching raids across the country, ICE’s acting chief of staff instructed local ICE officials around the country to portray the people they arrested as vicious criminals. “Please put together a white paper covering the three most egregious cases (for each location),” wrote the chief of staff in an email. “If a location has only one egregious case — then include an extra egregious case from another city.”

Despite the reality that many of the arrested immigrants are hardworking, family-oriented members of our community who have no criminal record, ICE officials devised this scheme to focus the media’s attention on the worst cases they could find. They distorted the truth, attempting to paint immigrants as savage criminals. It’s horrifying, but not surprising that an agency comfortable promoting this false narrative would also present misleading data to the Austin public. 

When we cannot trust our government agencies’ basic integrity or truthfulness, it’s time for us to change their structure and leadership. We need to be highly critical of the narratives we are fed about immigrants. We have the opportunity to vote twice this year, in both local and statewide elections — the primary election in March and the general election in November. Use your voice to promote candidates who will stand for truth and transparency. 

Leake is a Plan II and business freshman from Austin.