The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency plans to launch a six-week citizens academy in Chicago that will include "scenario-based" training of defensive tactics, firearms familiarization and targeted arrests.
In a letter addressed to stakeholders, Chicago ICE Field Officer Director Robert Guadian said the six-week course will help participants "gain insight into many facets of ICE/Enforcement and Removal Operations."
The program, which the Chicago ICE field office director said will serve as a "pilot for nationwide implementation," has drawn strong criticism from immigrant activists and lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, of Illinois' Fourth Congressional District.
"I'm concerned the invitation might appeal to right-wing individuals, vigilante-types who see this as a way of becoming deputized," Garcia said.
But Barbara Gonzalez, the assistant director of partnership and engagement at ICE, says the program aims to "educate influential members of the community from diverse walks of life.”
An agency spokeswoman said in a statement that the citizens academy is "an opportunity to build a strong foundation of knowledge of an often misunderstood agency and mission" and will offer a "transparent, insider's view" of enforcement operations.
However, Garcia said he feels the program seeks to recruit people to surveil their neighbors who they might suspect of being undocumented.
"People in Chicago fear the agency, and they detest Donald Trump," the congressman stated.
In a post on Facebook condemning the program, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez of the city's 33rd Ward said her North Side community will be ready to "stand alongside our undocumented neighbors."
"In this community we protect each other," she said. "In this community we look out for the collective well-being of our neighborhoods. As always, our communities are ready to respond to any threats of ICE attacks."
The curriculum will include classroom instruction, visiting an immigration detention center, learning more about the health care ICE provides to those in its custody, and examining ICE’s role in an immigration case from start to finish.
"We want to educate so there is calm within the community, so that they know the arrests we do are targeted," Gonzalez said. "So they know we don't do random arrests."
The academy also will give the agency the opportunity to hear from participants and learn from their perspectives, the spokeswoman stated.
The movement "Organized Communities Against Deportations" said on social media that agencies like ICE can't improve community relations when they are a part of the problem, and need to be dismantled.
"Historically in Chicago ICE has used violence, lies, deceitful tactics and surveillance technology to target and deport community members," according to a post on the group's Facebook page. "Instead of joining ICE, we ask people to join the movement against the agency responsible for the separation of families in our city and across the country."
The training will take place every Tuesday from 2 to 6 p.m. starting on Tuesday, Sept. 15 and end on Oct. 20, according to the letter sent to stakeholders.