ICE Citizen Academy causing uproar in Chicago, has been going on in Los Angeles - for years

The training, according to the press releases, will involve civilians in training on “facets and responsibilities of ICE/ERO (Enforcement and Removal) operations including “defensive tactics, firearms familiarization and targeted arrests."

To immigration support groups in Chicago, like the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latina America, it all translated into teaching people how to “snitch” and detain undocumented immigrants.

Regardless of what one believes, ICE Citizens Academy has been going on in Los Angeles for years.

Louise Mardirossian Gill, host of Lights on LA, a talk show on Armenian TV, graduated from the six-week course in 2016.  

“We are not snitches,” she quipped, explaining that the course immerses people into what the agents do, so they can understand it better.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ERO Communications Advisor Richard Rocha explained that the Chicago program is being run under their office, as opposed to the Los Angeles Academy, which was run under ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

But the idea is the same, to let people get a hands-on sense, by spending time with the officers, of what they do.

“We understand that people have misconceptions,” he said.

So when they show the process of targeting someone they are going to arrest, for example, they hope people will see they are not doing “the raids that we are accused of, just arresting a group of random people, are not reality. We know who we are targeting, the particular individuals and citizens in the academy see the whole process."  

We reached out to local pro-immigration groups, but most were unable to provide comment because they knew little about the local classes. For Gill, the seminars were definitely a plus.

“Regardless of how you feel about law enforcement,” she said. “If you spend time with them, seeing how hard they work, you at get a sense of how difficult the work is.” 

Detractors we spoke to on the streets say the program is nothing more than an attempt to get people to support ICE. Immigration officials seem to actually agree. The idea is to have participants at least understand their perspective and debunk myths, taking the information back to communities. And yes, they do hope the program results in a more positive image, even if what they do is disliked in many immigrant communities.