Hunt For Undocumented Migrants Widens: ICE Using License Plate Scanners

The Trump administration is expanding into a new stage of immigration enforcement and raising serious questions about his true plans for DACA and immigration.

States forcing police to act as immigration agents
Tom Pennington / Getty Images

The Trump administration is expanding into a new stage of immigration enforcement and raising serious questions about his true plans for DACA and immigration.

As Democrats brace for a possible Trump double-cross on DACA, the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is sending an explicit message to undocumented immigrants that says, “If you are in the U.S. without legal documentation, we will locate, detain, and deport you.”

ICE announced on Friday that it has contracted with the top license plate recognition database so it can begin actively scanning license plates in search of undocumented immigrants. According to KIRO 7, the scanners will connect to a national license plate database and the information will be cross-checked with a database of undocumented immigrants.

Agents will be allowed to scan license plates to see who owns a vehicle, and if that person’s name comes up as undocumented, agents can move in and possibly make an arrest. This latest move is another in a series of steps aimed at capturing as many immigrants as possible. The new ICE operation also has the potential to compromise the safety of some so-called sanctuary cities that use the same database, such as Seattle, Washington.

Additionally, local police departments are being ordered in several states to cooperate with federal agents, despite the Trump administration’s failed efforts to nationalize local police to assist with immigration enforcement.

Federal courts have struck down key components used to force police in sanctuary cities to act as immigration agents. The courts ruled that Trump’s executive order to withhold funding from cities who refuse to help ICE was unconstitutional.

Police ordered to cooperate with immigration agents in some states
  Mario Tama / Getty Images

However, the rulings still allow individual states to compel law enforcement agencies to cooperate with Trump’s agenda. According to the Guardian, 29 states are considering banning sanctuary cities altogether.

Texas recently enacted a law that not only orders police to act as immigration officers but also threatens officers with criminal charges if they refuse.

Since Trump took office, there has been a systematic uptick in immigration enforcement, with some actions raising concerns among civil liberties activists.

Recent sweeps throughout the country have left many undocumented immigrants unsure about their futures, with many afraid to go to school and work. And now, that fear has extended to being able to drive from one place to another.

For example, last March, a few months after Trump took office, agents of ICE appeared at the Chicago home of a 32-year-old Guatemalan native named Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez. Agents allegedly asked Catalan-Ramirez’s wife, Adame, where the family’s guns and drugs were. Authorities suspected Catalan-Ramirez was involved in gang activity, an allegation he and his wife vehemently denied.

According to the Intercept, things subsequently took a terrible turn when ICE agents allegedly wrestled the partially-paralyzed Catalan-Ramirez to the floor before placing him in handcuffs and transporting him to a detention facility.

The entire incident took place in front of his horrified wife and children. Video provided to the Intercept shows a shirtless and barefoot Catalan-Ramirez being led away in handcuffs, while his shaken wife begs in Spanish for the agents to have mercy on him.

Catalan-Ramirez’s children can also be heard crying as their father is taken away. Catalan-Ramirez is one of tens of thousands of undocumented people who are now in fear of receiving that same kind of knock on their doors.

Demonstrators protest Trump immigration policy across the nation
  Jose Luis Magana / AP Images

Another incident involved ICE agents who showed up unannounced at a Brooklyn, New York, courthouse to make an arrest. The agents reportedly came dressed in civilian clothes and refused to identify themselves as federal agents.

Witnesses said that the six agents could have easily been mistaken for kidnappers when they jumped from an unmarked van, wearing jeans and t-shirts, and grabbed a man who was due to appear in court that day.

Cameron Mease, a senior staff attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, told Slate that when he asked the men to identify themselves, they refused.

Mease, apparently taken aback by the brazenness of the plainclothes agents, dubbed them “secret police” because the men were literally acting in that capacity, according to Mease.

“In a free society, a law enforcement officer should state clearly that he or she represents the state.”