US (Pontiac) – Disturbing tales are surfacing from the fringes of immigration enforcement in America. Undocumented immigrants are now reporting ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents calling their phones unprompted. The phenomenon is aimed to convince ICE targets to volunteer for deportation proceedings.
According to Newsweek, even lawyers are bothered by the tactic which experts believe began in September. One case saw a Cuban woman in Newark, New Jersey visited by an agent for exceeding her stay. When her brother answered the door, they asked for their phone number. The agent then texted them an ad for a non-governmental website USA COPS, encouraging the woman to turn herself in.
Another case saw a lawyer confront an agent who’d been texting one of her clients. When New Jersey Immigration attorney Stephanie Isern first caught wind, she thought it was a scam. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time undocumented populations were targeted by phone scams. Parties pretending to be ICE attempt to convince someone to give money or other valuables or face deportation.
The agent who was texting Isern’s client, however, turned out to be legit. ICE demanded the woman meet them, “I’m not going to give an overstay notice”, the person said. After accompanying her client to the meeting, Isern walked away with an awful impression. The agency could be using this new tactic to trick undocumented persons to meet without legal advice. In short, Isren’s client was lucky the attorney was aware of the communications. ICE declined to comment on whether it’s resorted to texting immigrants.
In Oregon, one man was contacted by an agent who was later identified as Phillip Smith of Portland’s ICE office. Advocates believe Smith tried manipulating the man into divulging information about his homeland. Both the man, and the person Stephanie Isern represents, were convicted of misdemeanors at one point.
Perhaps that’s how the agents were able to acquire their phone numbers. And in the Cuban woman’s case, her phone number was surrendered upon request by her brother. There’s still a hint of mystery, especially if a case appears where the person has no arrest record. Another option is probably personal information recorded after applying for visa’s. Whether ICE is authorized to access some or any of this information is another story all together.
The specter of surveillance always brings the possibility of some other form of data collection. In recent months, ICE denied using cell site simulators, or Stingrays, to monitor undocumented persons. Data collected after a study of possible Stingray activity in Seattle, however, did gather evidence of one active near an immigration building. That particular facility belonged to Homeland Security.
Stingrays trick devices into revealing information by mimicking cell phone towers. The devices can also overpower nearby signals or change frequencies, essentially anything to dominate the network. Leaked FBI documents also show Stingrays can disrupt cell service of non-targeted bystanders.
Of course, law enforcement has any number of ways to monitor targets of interest. Regardless, the notion of agents calling undocumented immigrants is disturbing on a couple levels. Even if the target does not obey ICE, it still sends a psychological message. “We’re watching, we’re never far.” With President Donald Trump pushing to deliver anti-immigration campaign promises, ICE may be getting creative.