Semi-Secret ICE 'Criminal Alien Removal Initiative' Has Been Terrorizing New Orleans Immigants

| by Allison Geller

A recently unmasked federal initiative called the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative, or CARI, has led to widespread “stop-and-frisk”-style raids in New Orleans.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says that CARI focuses on deporting immigrants with violent criminal records. Al Jazeera reports that the way agents are treating immigrants in the program’s pilot city of New Orleans speaks otherwise.

A December report by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice revealed that ICE raids were being conducted in “apartment complexes, grocery stores, laundromats, Bible study groups, and other public places frequented by Latinos—based purely on racial profiling.”

Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer for the advocacy group, told Al Jazeera that the raids have struck terror on New Orleans immigrants.

“We haven’t seen raids with this magnitude, this intensity and this technology in other parts of the country,” Gonzalez said.

ICE agents have netted immigrants with no violent criminal history, based on their race or ethnicity. Erlin San Martin, a 27-year-old Honduran immigrant, was approached by two plainclothes immigration agents in September as he left the house to pick his son up from daycare.  

After asking San Martin for ID, the agents handcuffed him and scanned his fingerprints in an ICE vehicle.

“My feet were shackled, and I was handcuffed from 5 in the afternoon to 10 at night,” said San Martin.

San Martin waited in shackles as the agents drove around and picked up other immigrants, filling the vehicle, after stopping for a bite to eat and to meet with other ICE officials.

“I heard one of the agents say to another, ‘This is like going hunting,’” said San Martin. “And the other responded, ‘Yeah, I like this s---.’”

San Martin was finally allowed to call his wife at the ICE headquarters in downtown New Orleans that night, where his leg shackles, but not his handcuffs, were removed.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said the reason for San Martin’s apprehension was a previous deportation, in 2006.

He said CARI targets immigrants "based on the totality of an individual's public safety threat, beyond their status as an immigration fugitive." 

The month-long detention that followed led to the first public acknowledgement of the CARI program when ICE denied San Martin’s request for discretion to stay with his family in the U.S. The office revealed that CARI was responsible for his arrest.

San Martin has an “order of supervision” that allows him to remain with his family while a final decision is made regarding his deportation. CARI continues to handcuff and fingerprint anyone it considers suspect with mobile fingerprinting devices similar to those used in military counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NOWCRJ Executive Director Saket Soni called on the Obama administration to pass immigration reform to prevent the New Orleans CARI-style raids from becoming the norm.

“Without immediate action, the race-based raids being piloted in New Orleans will become the new normal across the country,” Soni said.

Sources: Al Jazeera America, NOWCRJ