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"We Can Make Him Disappear": Immigration Officials Are Holding People In Secret, Unmarked Jails

In addition to publicly listed field offices and detention sites, ICE is holding prisoners in 186 unlisted, unmarked locations, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces.

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ICE obscures its presence in other ways as well. Everyone knows that detention centers are in sparsely populated areas, but according to Amnesty International's Reynolds, policy director of migrant and refugee rights, "Quite a lot of communities don't know they're detaining thousands of people, because the signs say Service Processing Center," not Detention Center, although the latter designation is used for privately contracted facilities. The ICE e-mail stated that the "service processing" term was first used when the centers were run by the predecessor agency Immigration and Naturalization Service, "because these facilities were used to process aliens for deportation," ignoring the fact that these structures were and are distinctive for confining people and not the Orwellian "processing."

Even the largest complexes, which are usually off side roads from small highways, are visible only if you drive right up to the entrance. Unlike federal prisons, detention centers post no road signs to guide travelers. The anonymous ICE official would not provide a reason for this disparity.

ICE agents are also working in hidden offices in one of the grooviest buildings in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Tommy Kilbride, an ICE detention and removal officer and a star of A&E's reality show Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force , is part of the US Marshals Fugitive Task Force, housed on the third floor of the Chelsea Market, above Fat Witch Bakery and alongside Rachael Ray and the Food Network. Across the street are Craftsteak and Del Posto, both fancy venues for two other Food Network stars, Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali. Above their restaurants are agents working for the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Someone who had been working in that building for about a year said he had heard rumors of FBI agents, though he didn't see one until nine months later when a guy was openly carrying a gun through the lobby. In November, at midday, he saw two men in plain clothes walk a third man in handcuffs through a side-street door behind Craftsteak. "It was weird, creepy," he said, adding that the whole arrangement made him uncomfortable. "I don't like it. It makes you wonder, what are they hiding? Is it for good reasons or bad reasons?"

Natalie Jeremijenko, who lives nearby and is a professor of visual arts at New York University, pointed out the "twisted genius" of hiding federal agents in the "worldwide center of visuality and public space," referring to the galleries and High Line park among these buildings. Jeremijenko was incensed. "For a participatory democracy to work, you need to have real-time visual evidence of what is going on" and not just knowledge by professors who file a FOIA request or even readers of a Nation article.

In response to a question about the absence of signs at subfield offices, the ICE e-mail stated, "ICE attempts to place signs wherever possible, however there are many variables to consider such as shared buildings, law enforcement activities, zoning laws, etc." Except for "law enforcement activities," the reasons did not apply to the facilities listed here, as evidenced by signs on adjacent businesses.

The Obama administration continued to ignore complaints about the LA subfield office known as B-18 until April 1, when Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as ICE officials, were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center. In September, the parties reached a settlement. The ACLU's Arulanantham said, "I never understood what [ICE] had to gain. The fact that after we filed the suit they completely fixed it makes it more mysterious" as to why their months of earlier negotiation brought few results. At the time of the lawsuit, he said, the nearby Mira Loma Detention Center had space. When I asked if ICE was trying to punish people by bringing them to B-18, Arulanantham said, "No, no one was targeted," adding, "If it were punitive, it would be less disturbing."