America may have its fair share of “bad hombre” criminals, from the drug pushing MS-13 to their rivals in the Juárez Cartel, but they pale in comparison to the government’s gang — the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a.k.a. ICE), a department now given handbooks exclusively instructing how to avoid legal “difficulties” with the Constitution.
“ICE is known to use deceptive tactics,” immigration activist Azadeh Shahshahani, director of legality and advocacy for the Atlanta-based organization Project South, told The Intercept recently. “These types of practices, basically, are very problematic and smack of constitutional violations.”
She, of course, is referring to the revelations of Unicorn Riot, the non-profit independent news outlet entirely funded by its anonymous readers, who recently published an updated version of the “HSI Search and Seizure Handbook,” authored by ICE’s investigative wing of the agency, Homeland Security Investigations.
For over 10 years, as reported by journalist Eoin Higgins, ICE has worked tirelessly to keep their internal training handbooks out of the American courts, on government websites, and in the hands of the general public.
The department’s website only outlines the table of contents from the HSI’s 2016 Special Agents Manual, an updated version of the 2012 edition — making the verification process more difficult than it has to be for journalists and concerned activists-citizens alike. “There’s no reason to believe the document is not authentic,” said Matthew Bourke, the public affairs officer with ICE who spoke with The Intercept. “ICE-HSI does manage a special agent handbook on denaturalization investigations.”
The anonymous non-profit outlet’s “ICEBREAKER” series, centred around the constitutional problems with the agency, is broken down into three areas: tactics of “denaturalization” where the agency appears to strip immigrants of their citizenship status, tactics to acquire “asset forfeitures” from them for search and seizure purposes (even if the person hasn’t given consent), followed by agency instructions on how to meet “proof of compliance” from both fugitives and standard, undocumented-illegal Mamasitas alike.
“It’s beyond troubling that immigration authorities are focusing their resources on taking away citizenship from individuals who naturalized over a decade ago. The denaturalization efforts are in line with the Trump Administration’s policies stripping DACA and Temporary Protected Status from hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have been contributing to this country for years.”
— Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
Denaturalization, as explained in the handbook, is the “revocation of naturalization…the revoking and setting aside of the order admitting a person to citizenship and canceling the certificate of naturalization” — notably used in the 2018 case of Baljinder Singh, also known as Davinder Singh, officially announced by The Justice Department this January.
“The defendant exploited our immigration system and unlawfully secured the ultimate immigration benefit of naturalization, which undermines both the nation’s security and our lawful immigration system,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division - failing to disclose which information, in particular, was proven false and acquired through a proven method of legal legitimacy. “The Justice Department will continue to use every tool to protect the integrity of our nation’s immigration system, including the use of civil denaturalization.”
Singh was one of, if not the first subject in the government’s controversial “Operation Janus,” a state-sanctioned initiative that, as the non-profit reports, works to “investigate and seek denaturalization proceedings against those who obtained citizenship unlawfully” — which today has further legal gateways for immigration officers than ten years ago.
In the 2017 US Supreme Court ruling of Maslenjak vs United States, it was decided that “the Government must establish that the defendant’s illegal act played a role in her acquisition of citizenship” —The Associated Press noting this burden of proof was absent in the case of Bosnia’s Serb immigrant Divna Maslenjak, revoked of citizenship in 2014 before his appeal.
U.S. attorney Lance Curtright, based in the immigration debate heartland of San Antonio, Texas, told The Intercept that ICE can make the case in two judicial forms: criminal and civil.
Understandably, criminal is a pain in the ass to prove. This strips U.S. citizens of their status for the big kahuna crimes of drug smuggling, terrorism, rape — anything that would ordinarily be deserving of serious prison time.
Civil, on the other hand, is surprisingly more sinister given its relatively low burden of proof and it serving ICE’s agenda on foreigners: getting them out of the country on the taxpayer’s dime. Once an immigrant’s status has been stripped, legally, ICE can take them directly from the courtroom and on their merry way across the border — assuming they’re able to acquire an arrest warrant on probable cause based on provided evidence.
Curtright noted ICE’s recent internal shift towards those civil cases.
Where achieving citizenship involves getting your papers done, proving good moral character and the passing of an integration-based citizenship test, denaturalization involves getting citizens caught on perceived false-misleading statements made by the applicants — which may be acquired through less than ‘spirit of the law’ means.
This leads to the second constitutional problem with ICE:
2. Asset Forfeiture
A 72-page document known as the “Asset Forfeiture Handbook,” a policy document currently in usage by HSI-ICE as confirmed to The Intercept by ICE themselves, gives 2010-era instructions for how agents are able to successfully search and seize the items of illegal immigrants — even when the price of the property is too small to meet the requirements for forfeiture. This can include documents of a personal-legal nature, which could potentially be used either in court or a bargaining chip if both parties want to play ball.
Forfeiture proceeds, which can be sold for monetary gain for local police and immigration departments, raises concerns regarding the department's operations that should be questioned.
“As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized,” the document states.
To get around this general rule, ICE agent are given insight into how to scour through tax records, how to work with informants who know illegal immigrants in violation of either criminal status and civil disputes, as well as how to obtain phone records to justify the seizure on the legal books — meaning in the case of a civil ruling, where the person has no criminal charge and doesn’t go to jail, they can still take your shit through big government action. Members of Trump’s MAGA-cult screaming “law and order” are notably silent on the government taking away guns and property from “illegals,” but not so much when it hits their own doorstep.
The handbook reads:
“Those situations generally occur when a property owner is not convicted of a crime but is also not an innocent owner. Under criminal forfeiture, that property owner would be entitled to the return of the property. Under civil forfeiture, however, the owner would lose his or her interest to the Government.”
This makes life in prison a better alternative for property owners and both second and fourth amendment absolutists, giving Americans the right to bear their arms and retain ownership of their property from unjust government intervention, than resolving an issue through the civil avenue.
“Asset forfeiture is an essential element of comprehensive and effective law enforcement as it deprives transnational criminal organizations of their illicitly obtained assets. The forfeiture of assets can be and is utilized as a sanction in criminal, civil, and administrative investigative activities.”
— statement from ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett
3. Proof Of Compliance
Law enforcement needs two things to enter and handle a citizen’s property under the Fourth Amendment: the owner’s permission, resulting in a “consensual search,” or a judicial warrant by a U.S. judge. The “Search and Seizure Handbook,” however, helps ICE create a better case for their side.
Rather than just the outright arrest of illegal immigrants, which requires a warrant based on “probable cause” that a suspect committed a criminal offense, ICE are sneaking around this through the legally defined tactic of “Terry stops.”
This way, agents have more leeway, since through one piece of loose evidence or another, they only have to prove “reasonable suspicion” of involvement in a crime — say, the crimes of their parents they may have been thrust into— rather than if the person committed a crime and should be taken in under a warrant.
The ICE Handbook, verified by The Intercept, saying that during these stops “[Special Agents] may briefly, forcibly detain a person if there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the person is violating, has violated, or is about to violate any criminal statute which the SAs are authorized to enforce.”
This is concerning in the context of the internally created “ICE warrants,” where the agency, who gain monetary, invasive and braggadocios rewards from their use of force, grant themselves the use of force by signing the warrants themselves, not judges, under the sick guise of “law and order”:
This grants ICE agents a form of judicial immunity from the “fruit of the poisoned tree” due process exclusion — meaning you can’t commit a crime, such as breaking and entering to find a murder weapon because this renders yourself an untrustworthy criminal. Where the FBI and DOJ can’t rely on self-appointed warrants to give the appearance of compliance, the same can’t be said of ICE agents who deport both criminals and families on a regular basis. Agency of the poisoned government, you could say, echoed by the ACLU’s Melvin Medina who said it clearly:
“ICE agents are only thinking about their objective.”