Sunday, December 27, 2009

UCSB Professor Jacqueline Stevens Alleges ICE Agents Impersonating Mormon Missionaries To Apprehend Illegal Immigrants

University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Law & Society professor Jacqueline Stevens alleges that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are impersonating missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in order to identify and apprehend illegal immigrants in the United States. I first noticed this story posted on Times and Seasons and on the LDS Law blog.

The details are published in an interview in The Nation, which includes both a video and a written transcript of the interview. The subject of the interview was the alleged practice of ICE holding an untold number of people in secret detention facilities all over the United States. The Nation is also reporting that ICE agents regularly impersonate civilians and rely on other questionable tactics to arrest longtime US residents who have no criminal history. ICE agents have posed as OSHA officials, insurance agents, and even religious workers. And it was during the following segment that the allegation of the impersonation of LDS missionaries surfaced:

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the whole issue of how many of these people are picked up, the question of ICE agents impersonating, in some cases, Mormon missionaries, you write about, or insurance agents. Could you — how does that work?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: OK. So, one consequence of the detention operations and the removal operations moving away from these big workplace raids—that is something that the Obama administration has, you know, dedicated itself to—has been more surreptitious operations, and an increase in those. I mean, these have been going on under the Bush administration, as well, but there’s an impression that there’s been a shift to these more surreptitious operations for targeting people.

And among the operations that I encountered, and ICE calls these “ruse operations”—and just to be clear, under our law, ruse operations, for the most part, are legal. It is legal for, you know, federal agents to impersonate civilians for the purpose of tricking people who they suspect have arrest warrants and so forth in obtaining their custody.

It is not legal for federal agents to impersonate religious workers. And a spokesperson for the ACLU explained why, and I, you know, quote her in the article, but it’s a pretty obvious principle. If religious workers are suspected of being federal agents, then that makes it very difficult for them to fulfill their duties. If it’s part of the Mormon practice to proselytize and a community is suspecting Mormons of being federal agents, then they’ll be hostile to them. And that will, you know, constrict their ability to practice their religion. So that is one operation that ICE has been reported as doing.

The federal government’s response to this was really shocking to me. I sent them a question, and I said, “Is it consistent with ICE policy for ICE agents to impersonate religious workers?” And I would have expected a flat-out “no.” But instead, they explained exactly why and how it was consistent for ICE agents to impersonate religious workers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And just to be clear, this would be a situation where supposed Mormon missionaries are knocking on doors trying to find out who lives in a particular house or not?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Right. Well, it’s actually more targeted than that, typically. The ICE agents will suspect that a particular individual who has an outstanding warrant lives in a certain address and want to ascertain the time that that person will be there for purposes of effecting an arrest. And so, you know, they’ll go to any means necessary to try to obtain that information, including impersonating Mormon missionaries.

You can also read a December 17th article in The Nation, where Stevens documents a specific instance in Utah.

There was no initial reaction from the LDS Church. It should be noted, however, that The Nation is politically a left-of-center publication, and that Jacqueline Stevens, whose UCSB biography is available HERE, is a vocal advocate of open borders. She operates two websites, and the StatesWithoutNations blog.

But while skepticism is warranted because of the prospective bias of the source, concern is also necessary. If ICE is actually impersonating LDS missionaries, it could undermine the Church's proselytization efforts, and it also impinges upon the traditional sanctity of the pulpit. If the LDS Church wants to cooperate in the effort to reduce illegal immigration, it could start by asking prospective missionaries to prove their legal residency in the United States first. The Church has a habit of calling illegal immigrants to serve missions. Let's clean up our own house first.

Update December 28th: According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the allegations that agents pretend to be missionaries is "patently untrue." But in response, Jacqueline Stevens was dubious of ICE's denials. "How do we know it's not part of their ruse operation to lie about ruse operations?", she asked. Meanwhile, LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined comment. "The church cannot comment on unsubstantiated allegations," she wrote Monday in an e-mail.

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