Representative Velázquez Fights to Remove ‘Police’ Label from I.C.E. Uniforms

Katy Golvala

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The federal government shows no signs of stopping its campaign to target immigrants, but local politicians in Bushwick are stepping up to fight for their constituents.

Representative Nydia Velázquez has been active in this fight. Last April, she introduced a bill that would prohibit entities like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) from wearing uniforms bearing the word “police.” At an immigration forum last weekend, she reiterated the importance of being able to distinguish between local police and federal immigration officers.

“Not only are ICE raids an unconscionable attack on our most vulnerable communities, any attempt by immigration officers to deceivingly pose as local police ought to be prohibited,” said Rep. Velázquez in a statement when she introduced the legislation in April of last year.

Yaritza Mendez, the Immigration and Civil Rights Coordinator at Make the Road, has seen how deceptive it can be when an immigration agent wears a uniform that says ‘police.’

In firsthand accounts from residents, Mendez has heard of ICE agents going to the homes of undocumented residents and posing as cops who are just looking for information on a suspect in a random local crime. The agents will knock on the door, hold up a picture of the “suspect” through the window, and ask residents to let them in so that they can ask them a few questions. Residents see “police” on their uniform and, wanting to comply, let the agents into their home.

That’s when the trouble starts.

“Next thing you know, they get inside your apartment, without a judicial warrant, without judicial consent, and then they just start asking for ID’s,” explains Mendez. ICE used this tactic in a raid they conducted just around the corner from Make the Road’s office on Grove Street, she adds.

Believe it or not, this tactic is legal. And, because it’s so effective, ICE encourages its agents to impersonate police officers during training. Of the eleven confirmed ICE raids that have taken place in Bushwick, Ridgewood, and North Bed Stuy since 2013, seven involved ICE agents identifying themselves as “police.” Velázquez’s bill could cut down on the number of these types of instances by helping people more clearly differentiate ICE agents from local officers.

For anyone who wants more information on or is interested in better understanding the rights of immigrants in New York City, check out Make the Road’s Know Your Rights page. It’s got tons of one-pagers on topics like what to do if ICE comes to your home and how you can help separated immigrant children. All resources are available in both English and Spanish.

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Cover photo courtesy of Alec Meeker

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