CHICAGO — A coalition of immigrant rights groups is urging U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement to cancel plans to bring a “Citizens Academy” to Chicago this fall — saying the program will lead to neighbors racially profiling each other, violence and increased fear in immigrant communities.
The six-week course, modeled after other law enforcement academies, is set to begin in September and will “train citizens to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants,” according to Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, who is working alongside other Illinois lawmakers in Washington to get the program defunded.
An ICE spokesperson said the course includes having people visit an immigration detention center, learn about the agency’s handling of health care of people in custody and examining the agency’s role in an immigration case.
But the course will also include “defensive tactics, firearms familiarization and targeted arrests,” according to a Newsweek report.
The academy is a way to “build a strong foundation of knowledge of an often misunderstood agency and mission,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement. The program is open to “interested participants from a variety of stakeholder [groups] … including community groups, state/local elected leaders, congressional staff, consular officials and business and religious leaders.”
Lissette Castillo, an organizer with Detention Watch Network, said the academy is spreading propaganda and is a gross attack against immigrants in Chicago and neighboring communities.
“At a time when our country is being forced to reckon with the violence that is perpetuated by law enforcement agencies, particularly against Black communities, this decision to launch an ICE academy … is tone-deaf and dangerous,” Castillo said at a Thursday morning press conference.
The program is a ploy to mask the harm caused by ICE and could result in vigilantism against people of color, Castillo said.
Earlier this month, Garcia and other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee chairs in an effort to block ICE from using public funds to train citizens on arresting immigrants, Garcia said in a statement.
“These ‘academies’ are nothing more than taxpayer-funded PR stunts to improve the image of an agency that continues to cage migrant children in inhumane and deadly detention centers,” the lawmaker said.
The National Immigrant Justice Center and the ACLU have also come out against the academy, which is targeting Chicago for political reasons, Rep. Mike Quigley said in a statement.
“The United States is not a police state where ordinary men and women are deputized to carry out immigration enforcement based on discriminatory racial profiling practices,” Quigley said. “The so-called ‘Citizens Academy’ program would do nothing less than train Americans to suspect their friends or neighbors of being dangerous criminals, regardless of their actual immigration status.”
The program comes at a time when protests have swept the nation calling on cities to defund police and abolish ICE. Those demands have intensified following threats, deportations and immigration bans from President Donald Trump over the last three years.
Claudia Lucero, Chicago Religious Leadership Network executive director, echoed Castillo’s call in demanding the academy’s cancellation.
Lucero, an immigrant, said the ICE Citizens Academy “only increased hate and xenophobic sentiments against immigrants.”
“Nothing good can come from these hate-training programs. … We are against division and hate,” she said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.