The Two Union Leaders Driving Trump's Immigration Enforcement Crackdown

When the president "takes the shackles off" ICE and Border Patrol agents, law-abiding Americans pay the price.

Chris Crane, president of the ICE Council union
Photo Credit: CSPAN

As the detention of law-abiding undocumented U.S. residents spreads across the country and throughout the nation’s airports, no small part of the blame (or credit) belongs to two union leaders who have backed Trump to the hilt. They are Chris Crane, the president of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council, a union that represents some 5,800 ICE officers nationwide, and Brandon Judd, head of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Council, which represents 16,000 CBP agents.

Both men were early Trump supporters who associate with nativist groups founded by a white supremacist.

In his February 2016 endorsement of Donald Trump, Crane falsely charged that President Obama’s executive order on immigration required ICE officers to ignore "cartel members, gang members, weapons traffickers, murder suspects, drug dealers, suspects of violent assault."

In fact, the Obama order required ICE to prioritize felony criminals and not target law-abiding undocumented residents.

In seeking to block the comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, Crane claimed that “violent street gangs were literally able to lobby Sen. Rubio and the Gang of Eight more effectively than law enforcement…. Gangs were able to get provisions in the law to protect themselves.” There is no evidence to support Crane’s claim.

Judd, who endorsed Trump in March 2016, served on the Trump transition team, which filled two top positions at the Department of Homeland Security with leaders of nativist organizations—the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies, according to the New Yorker. Both groups oppose legal and illegal immigration to the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified FAIR and CIS as hate groups because of the racist and neo-Nazi views of their founder, John Tanton. 

In a meeting on January 25, Trump singled out Crane and Judd for praise, saying, “You guys are about to be very, very busy doing your jobs.” 

“Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders,” Crane and Judd said in a joint statement four days later. “The men and women of ICE and Border Patrol will work tirelessly to keep criminals, terrorists, and public safety threats out of this country.”

Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the president wanted to “take the shackles off” of immigration agents, an expression some officers use to describe their newfound freedom. The results of improving “morale” and increasing “busy-ness” of unshackled agents are appearing all over the country, but it’s not criminals, terrorists or public safety threats who are suffering.

Border Patrol Wants Your Phone

In a Florida airport, CBP agents detained the ex-wife and son of boxing great Muhammed Ali, apparently because of their Muslim names. While Khalilah Camacho Ali was released, Ali Jr. was questioned for nearly two hours, according to his lawyer, with CBP agents repeatedly asking him, "Where did you get your name from?" and "Are you Muslim?"

A NASA scientist reported that he was held by customs officials until he handed over the PIN to his government cell phone.

After Trump’s immigration ban threw the nation’s airports into chaos last month, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a complaint with DHS including 26 accounts from lawyers and family members who, in violation of the law, were prevented from seeing clients and relatives held by CBP agents. 

The CBP has institutional problems with accountability, according to James Tomsheck, who headed the agency's internal affairs unit from 2006 to 2014. On the Mexican border, the CBP “had problems with misconduct, lack of sensitivity to immigrants, and violence along the border," he recently told the New Yorker. But any attempt at oversight, Tomsheck said, was met with hostility—especially from the union headed by Judd.

Last fall, Judd told Fox News he was supporting Trump because "he wants to take the handcuffs off."

ICE Unbound

ICE agents now have expanded discretion to target people who have "abused" public benefits, misrepresented themselves, or "in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security," thanks to a February 20 directive issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

The memo gives few specifics on how each of these criteria will be determined, empowering ICE agents to detain and deport law-abiding residents.

While Trump has made sympathetic utterances about the "Dreamers,” young immigrants protected by President Obama’s June 2012 order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Crane is hostile. In 2013, he encouraged suspicion of Dreamers by claiming that 99 percent of all applications for DACA protection were approved. In fact, DHS statistics show that 57 percent of DACA applications were accepted and 43 percent were rejected. 

Since Trump took office, ICE has detained at least two young people protected by DACA in Los Angeles and Seattle.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at the Harvard School of Law, has joined in the defense of Daniel Ramirez, who was detained in Seattle.

"I think the Trump administration's escalation of indiscriminate deportation raids is a blow, both to undocumented immigrants who have been law-abiding ever since overstaying their visas, and to the American sense of fairness," Tribe told Politico. Ramirez, he wrote, "is covered by DACA and is thus the victim of a brutally broken government promise that if he comes out of the shadows, he will receive deferred deportation status.”

The deception doesn't stop there.

In Santa Cruz, California, chief of police Kevin Vogel accused DHS officials of lying about the scope of the raids conducted jointly between his department and federal agents this month aimed at apprehending MS-13 gang members. (DHS denied that non-gang members were targeted.)

In Denver, ICE agents loitered in a courthouse without a warrant, apparently looking for undocumented immigrants. A video of the agents, says Denverite, “is evidence of something immigration attorneys insisted was happening and that local officials had said was not happening: immigration enforcement officers using the court process to find people wanted for possible immigration violations and take them into custody.” (Watch the video.)

A Texas family court judge criticized ICE's tactics, after agents arrested a transgender woman in the El Paso courthouse. She was seeking a protective order from an abusive ex-boyfriend.

"The agents apparently detained the woman February 9 after receiving a tip, possibly from her alleged abuser, whom they already had in custody," El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the El Paso Times.

District Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez, who oversees the court that issued the woman's protective order, said ICE agents should avoid assisting domestic abusers by acting on their tips against their partners. “There’s no place for that—especially in family court,” she said.

Last week, DHS officials briefed members of Congress about recent immigration enforcement actions. According to lawmakers present, ICE officials acknowledged that at least 186 of those apprehended in recent days had no criminal history.

What Are the 'Shackles'?

“When a president gives the green light to federal law enforcement agencies that target vulnerable immigrants and operate with impunity, this is what you get: out-of-control police forces that declare open season on anyone they encounter,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice.

"A law enforcement official who lies and associates with hate groups should not be a policymaker in a democracy,” said Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Everybody has to believe they will be treated fairly by law enforcement or else the rule of law is threatened.”

The phrase “take the shackles off” is especially dangerous, Fernandez said.

“That kind of language sends a message that a law enforcement officer should do whatever he or she thinks is right, not what the constitution and the courts require,” he said in an interview with AlterNet.

Yet that’s the very message immigration enforcement officers are hearing from Chris Crane, Brandon Judd and President Trump. 

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press, October 2017) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World