Blueprint for Terror: How ICE Planned its Largest Immigration Raid in History
The ongoing threat of raids for mass deportations has made it necessary for us to understand the inner workings of ICE’s mass raid operations. We’ve confirmed in government documents that ICE operations are politically motivated and not at all about national security, as the administration claims. In their own words, via plans and tactics we uncovered, you will catch a glimpse into their machinations to target, harass, and expel migrants from their communities. While the documents detail information about raids planned back in 2017, we noted the “rinse-and-repeat” nature of ICE’s operations and what we can expect, as Trump reignites the threat of more raids to come after July 4th.
In September 2017, immigration advocates discovered ICE planned to launch a massive immigration detention and deportation operation in mid-September 2017. News outlets reported that the operation was called Operation Mega and expected to detain 8,400 to 10,000 noncitizens with the help of all 24 field offices. After the exposure, ICE canceled the operation and claimed that the plans were “adjusted accordingly.” More reports leaked showing that ICE planned new operations Epic and Safe Cities.
In response, Detention Watch Network (DWN) and Mijente recruited over 200 organizations and community leaders to file Freedom of Information Act requests to ICE Headquarters and all 24 ICE Field Offices to obtain the background, protocols, and procedures for the scheduled immigration raid and other such mass operations. ICE never responded to these requests, and DWN and Mijente filed a FOIA lawsuit to acquire the documentation. Over the past year, DWN and Mijente received thousands of pages of documents that detail the operations, targets, tactics and coordination practices between federal prosecutors and local police in large scale immigration raids. Public Citizen continues to litigate on behalf of DWN and Mijente. Just Futures Law reviewed documents and prepared this report for DWN and Mijente.
These are the top 7 most important things we learned from these documents:
1. Operation Mega was real and was designed to be the biggest raid of all time.
Operation Mega was designed to arrest at least 8,400 people over 5 days in September 2017 and involved all of ICE’s field offices. ICE leadership conceived of the plan and then ordered Fugitive Operations in ICE Headquarters (ICE HQ) to execute it with the local Field Offices. Even though National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) in ICE HQ created the target lists for the raid, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was designated to do actual arrests. Key parts of this plan included pressuring people to take deportation orders (“stip orders”) and coordinating with commercial airlines and ERO attachés with foreign governments to get people removed as quickly as possible.
The FOIA suit produced several key documents that reveal planning and infrastructure for national operations and Operation Mega:
- Operation Mega ICE HQ email to all local offices introducing the operation and describing the coordination with local Areas of Responsiblity (AORs) and the Field Office responsibilities during the raids.
- Operation Mega Headquarters Approved Operation Plan
- Operation Safe City Headquarters Approved Operation Plan
- 4th Amendment Primer by ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA): Detailed powerpoint presentation from ICE counsel to train local agents on the 4the Amendment during massive operations. This presentation discusses surveillance, warrants, vehicle stops, vehicle pursuits, ruses, searches, phone searches and arrest procedures.
- A 2014 Fugitive Operations Manual that includes policies and protocols for executing raids, worksheets used for reporting purposes (e.g., “Fugitive Report, Field Operations Worksheet, Enforcement and Removal Operations Escape Reporting Worksheet”)
- ICE Leadership made money available for local Field Office Directors to execute Operation Mega. They provided guidance and a template, but nearly all of it was redacted.
- Operation Plan for Operation Border Guardian and Border Resolve, an operation that targeted unaccompanied minors and their families.
- HSI Raging Bull Field Guidance and Operations Concept: very detailed information about concept planning and field operations on suspected gang members. It was mostly unredacted and includes information that could be helpful in future FOIA requests.
- Arrest Worksheet for national operations was also released.
2. ICE used arrest quotas and anyone suspected of being a noncitizen was a target for deportation.
While planning for the raid, ICE used immigration, criminal, and commercial databases to create “target lists.” First, ICE HQ with the help of the National Fugitive Operations Program’s National Criminal Alien Targeting Center (NCATC), set a minimum national arrest quota number of 8,400 people. The NCATC generated a target list using a “myriad of sources,” including some commercial vendors (i.e., private companies) that collect personal information like traffic tickets, license plates, or utility bills.
Second, ICE HQ also sent local target quotas to local ICE Field Offices. The local Field Offices with the help of NCATC data-mined their own sources for a last known address of the person they wanted to deport. In most cases, Field Offices added on more targets for arrest and detention. To get higher numbers, agents were expected to arrest “collaterals” encountered in the operation. [Source 1] and [Source 2]
3. Although Operation Mega was the largest raid ICE HQ planned, they conducted multiple national operations in 2017. ICE recycles the same operations again and again for raids.
In most cases, National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) or Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), planned and executed raids, including:
- Cross Check: Cross Check VII was the blueprint for Operation Mega and Operation Epic. Operation Cross Check is a bi-annual or yearly massive raid conducted by ICE in which hundreds of people are arrested. Cross Check is often planned by NFOP and ICE Leadership. In vetting targets, NFOP queries law enforcement databases, immigration databases, and commercial databases. It also data-mines information collected from local field offices.
- Safe Cities operations target “sanctuary cities,” namely Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Baltimore, Santa Clara and many others. In Chicago, the operation was called “Chicago Fire.” Despite the focus on people with criminal histories, Safe Cities ended up apprehending far more people without criminal history than with criminal history.
- Border Guardian or Border Resolve: This operation targets unaccompanied minors, specifically unaccompanied minors over the age of 18 (e.g., “aged-out”).
- Operation Raging Bull: Operation targeting alleged gang members. The Field Guidance for this operation is eye-opening and has the most information about FALCON.
- Operation Visa Overstay: This operation arrests people who overstay visitor visas and visa-waivers. [Source document]
4. Palantir’s programs and databases were integrated into all Operation Mega planned raids. They are now part of most enforcement actions by ICE.
These raids now use powerful tech and databases in the field. ICE is given authority to use the newest technology and equipment during local operations, including FALCON, FALCON Mobile, ICE EDDIE and Cellbrite during arrests. [Source document]
- Palantir-designed FALCON and FALCON Mobile. FALCON Mobile can scan body biometrics, including tattoos and irises. FALCON and FALCON Mobile can use “link analysis” to connect profiles and biometrics with associates and vehicles.
- EDDIE is a mobile fingerprinting program that is attached to a mobile fingerprint collection device. These fingerprints are then put into FALCON systems, including ICE’s case management system, Integrated Case Management (ICM, see below). The fingerprints are used to identify people to see if they have criminal history or immigration history, including a final deportation order.
- Cellbrite is a handheld unit that breaks into smartphones and downloads information – up to 3000 phones for one device. It can even extract data that was deleted from your phone. ICE claims that they should obtain consent. (See Operation Raging Bull Field Guidance.) FALCON includes access to services provided by Cellbrite.
- ICM was integrated into Operation Mega. All the systems mentioned above feed into the massive new ICE case management system, ICM, another Palantir Technologies product. ICM is a new intelligence system capable of linking across dozens of databases from inside and outside DHS. ICM is scheduled to be completed by September 2019.
The information is used to support the political objectives of ICE. Both HSI and the Fugitive Operations Team set up a detailed and comprehensive reporting system for arrests and deportations that focused on contact with the criminal system, not on their ties to family or communities.agencies. The reporting system, comprised of Daily Operation Reports (DORs), which included numbers arrested after an immigration raid, and “egregious write-ups,” which were summaries of certain arrests during national or local ICE operations, was aligned with ICE’s public affairs and communications system, e.g. this information usually went into ICE press releases.
5. Local Field Offices developed local operations plans to execute Operation Mega/Epic/Cross Check or Safe Cities.
There should be 24 plans for Operation Mega. So far, we have seen about a third of them.
Available now are:
- Operations Plans, pre and post planning briefs for Cross Check, Safe Cities or Border Guardian from Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso  , New York City, Philadelphia    , Phoenix, Salt Lake City  , and San Antonio    .
- Good search terms to use: “operations plan” “post-ops” “Daily Operations Reports (DOR)”
Most operation plans were boilerplate copies, but some plans, especially San Antonio and Salt Lake City, contain very specific information related to their Field Office. These plans provide:
- Target quota numbers and how to handle people who are not targets i.e. “collaterals”
- 4th amendment issues and treatment of “sensitive locations”
- How to handle protests and activists
- How to treat juveniles and non-target juveniles
- How to use “stipulated orders” – People take stipulated orders after deportation officers convince someone to give up their right to a hearing and take a deportation order
- Protocols on arresting gang members
- Coordination with local law enforcement, probation offices, military or other agencies (see below for email from San Antonio on using traffic tickets and “high crime” areas to map out local targets)
- Coordination with the US Attorney’s Office for federal prosecutions
- Coding of arrests and the use of analytic programs and databases like Integrated Case Management (ICM)
- Mobile fingerprint collection, such as FALCON and EDDIE. These mobile fingerprint collection systems were made by Palantir or NEC.
6. ICE often arrested more “collaterals” than “targets” during Cross Check raids.
There’s no standard definition that ICE follows when carrying out its operations, so in policy and practice all migrants are criminalized
7. ICE worked with US Attorney’s offices to criminally prosecute as many people as possible.
Nearly every Field Office Operations Memo included a section on referring arrested individuals for prosecution by the US Attorney’s Office (USAO). In a few cities, local Field Offices reported on the success of referring cases for prosecution. An alternative to taking the case was working up the case for special treatment in the ICE Field Office.
From the Operation Mega operations plan: