photos surface of ICE employee at party in blackface and prison costume

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blackface photos thinkprogress.jpg

CNN recently compelled the government to release photos taken of the official in charge of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) with an ICE employee in blackface and fake dreads dressed in a prisoner's uniform at an office Halloween party last year. View the segment here.  See some of the redacted photos here.

At the party, Julie Myers, then-acting chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security, gave an award for "most original costume" to an employee wearing prison stripes, a wig with dreadlocks and face-darkening makeup.

Immediately after posing for a photo with the winner, Myers later told Congress she recognized that she made an error in judgment and ordered the photos deleted from the camera.

Myers said she did not know the employee was wearing skin makeup, but ordered the photos destroyed because she did not think that "recognizing an escaped prisoner in any way was beneficial to the agency's goal of treating everyone in our custody with dignity and respect."

This week, in response to the Freedom of Information Act request filed by CNN on November 6, ICE released 113 official photographs of the party, including all of the deleted photos, which technicians were able to electronically restore.

An ICE spokeswoman denied the photos were suppressed until after Myers' job was secure, saying ICE responded in an "efficient time frame" to the FOIA request.

That claim is suspect is a lie given that when Myers' appointment was being scrutinized by Congress last fall, ICE told Congress that the pictures had been deleted.  I don't know in what parallel universe telling Congress the photos were deleted does not count as "suppressing" them.  Sometimes a lie is simply a lie.  This is what ICE said last fall:

A department photographer photographed Myers with the man, but the images were deleted after the costume were deemed offensive, ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.

The administration has a track record of lying to Congress about embarrassing evidence it wants to keep from circulating and further damaging its already basement-level credibility.  They lied to Congress about the existence of the Padilla torture tapes, then destroyed them.  They lied to Congress about the existence of the Myers Halloween photos, but didn't count on CNN getting their hands on them through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.


Let's travel back to 2005, when Bush first appointed Myers to head up ICE, an appointment widely criticized as nepotism of the first order. 

Critics of the appointment noted that the 36-year-old Myers' previous experience as a federal prosecutor, White House aide and manager of a much smaller bureau didn't prepare her for the ICE job. Myers' background does not include any lengthy stints overseeing business transformation of IT management projects, which will be important in her new job.

The critics also noted that Myers is married to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff's chief of staff and is well-connected with the Bush administration.

Myers' uncle is General Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Some insiders weren't happy with her appointment, either:

"It appears she's got a tremendous amount of experience in money laundering, in banking and the financial areas," said Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, a union that represents 7,800 ICE agents, officers and support staff. "My question is: Who the hell is going to enforce the immigration laws?"

Bush went ahead with a recess appointment, which he then renewed a year later.  When members of Congress finally got around to evaluating Myers late in 2007, they happily rolled over in the face of now demonstrably false assurances about the Halloween incident. 

But what is the broader significance of Myers' incredibly poor judgment at what was, after all, just an office party?  Kevin Johnson made an important point when this story first broke in November:

One persistent criticism of immigration enforcement is that racial profiling is endemic and that racial insensitivity is commonplace among immigration officers.   

I haven't had much direct contact with ICE agents, but my experience with USCIS officers has been that they have near-complete discretion to decide certain immigration cases--principally marriage-based green card cases--which unfortunately leaves ample room for decisions based on race that adjudicating officers don't have to justify to anyone.  The darker the skin of my clients, the more likely they are to be hassled.  This is anecdotal, but it is something I can vouch for from personal experience. 

This country has a long history of race-based abuses by law enforcement, a history that continues to the present day in Texas, North Carolina, and elsewhere around the country.  ICE raided the home of one U.S. citizen of Dominican origin in Long Island twice, terrorizing her children.    

At least one prominent official in ICE's predecessor agency, INS, was known for his public animus against immigrants:

Harold Ezell, Western Regional Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1980s, was infamous for comments made about "illegal aliens" -- that they should be "caught, skinned and fried." Senator Dennis DeConcini reportedly complained that Ezell used the term "`wets,'" apparently a shortened version of the pejorative term "wetbacks," to refer to undocumented immigrants seeking to cross the Rio Grande. In the campaign for Proposition 187 in California in 1994, Ezell mentioned that support for Proposition 187 was great because "`[t]he people are tired of watching their state run wild and become a third world country.'"

Immigration officials, and ICE in particular, should be especially attuned to racism within the ranks, given the potential for abuse, error, and persecution of immigrants in a system predicated on unequal rights.  Instead, it seems the fox is guarding the henhouse. 

[Images: ThinkProgress, ICE]

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laura said:

If they are not racists, how could ICE police throw handcuffed 4 foot-tall Guatemalan women on the floor during the raid in New Bedford, Mass last year ? If they are not racists, how could they let the women go for a day without water to drink ? How could they take breastfeeding mothers away from their babies, so that two babies in New Bedford had to be hospitalized for dehydration ?

Do you think they would have done this to white "illegal immigrants" ?

Why did two healthy young Brazilian men die last year - in separate events - in Massachusetts after being arrested for immigration violations ?

These pictures simply show that abuses by ICE are not accidental, individual aberrations on a local level. They derive from the tone set in the Washington, DC office.

Why are these pictures not all over the news and the blogs ? They speak very loudly to what kind of thinking is spread from the top down within ICE. These are the people responsible for terrorizing my friends and community. Shouldn't we pay more attention to what kind of people they are ?

Why is this not being

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I hear your pain Laura. These are the events we have suffered through together on Citizen Orange, and I appreciate you sharing your feelings here. Every one of those incidents brings twangs to my heart and we can't stop fighting for justice.

josie said:

yes, they do this to people they deem to be illegal of All colors, I am white, was in with Mexican, Indian, Guetemalan, Jamaican, we had to stick together during terrible physical adn mental abuse in Immigration jail, myself for four months. After I met Julie Myers, she said she would look into my case, I was moved, denied yet more rights, and forced onto a they needed to cover their mistakes. I am glad ms. Myers resigned, hopefully now the FBI will be looking closely at how they arrested US Citizens etc, and put everyone thru the same hell. I was in with a jamaican greencardholder 70 yrs old, grandmother of 8 citizen children and 9 citizen grandchildren,and she was ehld for more than a year beofore being banned to Jamaica for 20 years.....will sehe live long enough to see her grandkids again? While Ms. Myers was taking the above photos yes they are racist, but in a special way reserved by ICE adn prison gaurds for anyone in jail. We are treated like dirt, not like 'administrative detainees' - I have never even had a traffic ticket and worked in a high level banking position before ICE arrested and tried to kill me. To cover it, they deported me.

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