As the City Council prepares to vote on amendments strengthening the city’s “sanctuary” law, a newly unearthed agreement between Chicago police and federal authorities has some immigrant rights activists concerned.
The agreement — signed by former Supt. Eddie Johnson in April — allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “designate certain employees” of the Chicago Police Department as “customs officers.”
Those officers are “authorized to enforce the full range of federal offenses” but are not allowed to “enforce administrative violations of immigration law,” according to a copy of the agreement shared with the Chicago Sun-Times.
CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said there are no department employees currently deputized as “customs officers” but defended the agreement, saying it allows police to investigate drug trafficking, human trafficking, gangs and financial crimes through Homeland Security Investigations, which is a branch of ICE.
“Chicago, like many other major cities, has the authority to appoint officers to conduct joint state and federal investigations with Homeland Security Investigations,” Guglielmi said. “This is not a partnership in immigration enforcement.”
But Guglielmi’s assurances aren’t enough for Rey Wences. A member of Organized Communities Against Deportations, Wences helped craft amendments to the Welcoming Cities ordinance that are up for a full City Council vote Wednesday.
The amendments bar CPD from assisting ICE, Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations in enforcing civil immigration operations and requires the department to keep track of every request for assistance it receives.
But Wences said she didn’t know about the agreement between CPD and ICE. Neither did Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) nor Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), who introduced the amendments in December with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“Police-ICE collaboration is police-ICE collaboration no matter how you paint it,” Wences said. “The existence of this agreement … makes you wonder what other kinds of agreements the city has [with ICE.]”
The agreement “goes against the spirit of the Welcoming Cities ordinance,” Rodriguez said.
The mayor’s office and ICE officials did not respond to requests for comments Tuesday.
The Homeland Security Investigations office was created in 2010 to handle a range of criminal investigations such as weapons smuggling and child sex tourism.
ICE has routinely insisted Homeland Security Investigations is separate from its Enforcement and Removal Operations, which handles all deportations.
But under the Trump administration, the line between both branches of ICE has blurred.
In 2017, former ICE acting director Tom Homan told Homeland Security Investigations to increase time spent on worksite raids “by four to five times.”
Within two years, Homeland Security Investigations had conducted several high-profile raids across the country, including a raid of seven food processing plants in Mississippi that landed nearly 700 undocumented immigrants workers in detention. (Almost half of them were released the next day.)
“While HSI has attempted to legitimize its use of worksite raids by claiming they are criminal investigations, the vast majority of the workers detained are administratively arrested on civil immigration violations,” reads a 2019 report by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the National Immigration Law Center.
The same report criticized Homeland Security Investigations for engaging in racial profiling as it targets criminal gangs across the country.
“It is no longer a secret that HSI agents use the ‘gang’ label as a cover for engaging in widespread round-ups of immigrant youth of color,” the report says.
And in Boston — a fellow sanctuary city — a similar agreement between the local police department and ICE led to widespread criticism after it was revealed officials “regularly offer information back and forth between the agencies,” as reported by NPR-affiliate WBUR.
Guglielmi says he doesn’t believe those kinds of incidents will happen in Chicago and is confident CPD officers will obey the Welcoming Cities ordinance.
“Our core focus of this department is to protect every resident of the city. We don’t care where you were born,” he said.
Freddy Martinez, a policy analyst at Open the Government who obtained a copy of the CPD-ICE agreement through an open records request, said, however, there is reason to question cooperation between immigration authorities and sanctuary cities.
“We know ICE uses deceptive practices to get CPD to cooperate with them on immigration enforcement, with or without their knowledge,” Martinez said. “Significant questions remain about why [CPD] felt the need to enter into these types of agreements when there are no officers deputized to assist ICE.”
Carlos Ballesteros and Manny Ramos are corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.