An explosive report from The Nation magazine Wednesday morning showed the federal government spied on progressive activists in New York City.
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Emails from February, July, and August 2018 between agents in the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) wing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) obtained by reporter Jimmy Tobias show a surveillance operation targeted at protests against President Donald Trump’s administration and immigration policies in the city.
Tobias points to three actions in particular that were singled out by HSI: a February 14, 2018, Ash Wednesday protest by immigrant rights group the New Sanctuary Coalition; a protest outside ICE’s Manhattan offices dubbed the Deportee Suitcase Solidarity March on July 26, 2018; and a July 31, 2018, protest against white supremacist group Identity Evropa organized by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.).
The latter was included in a list of events sent to agents entitled “Anti-Trump Protest Spreadsheet.”
“Please remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings,” the email said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for ICE told The Nation that while the agency would not comment specifically on the spreadsheet’s methodology, it did feel that agents needed to know about the protests for operations.
“The referenced email was provided to HSI agents for situational awareness should any HSI employees be traveling through those areas,” the spokesperson said, “whether on work or personal time.”
Progressives targeted by the list were skeptical of ICE’s explanations and concerned about the implications of spying on activists.
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“How is a list like this compiled? Who makes the distinction that one group makes the cut and another one doesn’t? Is it just a whim? It seems to me to be very dangerous,” Ken Kidd, an organizer with Gays Against Guns, told The Nation. “It is a terrible precedent.”
Some activists were outraged that the surveillance was being done in the first place, especially given the reasoning provided in the emails.
“If they are watching us because we are against the current president’s policies,” said Jody Kuh, an organizer with anti-Trump organization Rise and Resist, which was targeted in the emails, “it is more than a little disturbing.”
“I demand answers,” Rep. Espaillat said in a tweet in response to The Nation‘s reporting.
New York University law professor Alina Das, who is a lawyer for the New Sanctuary Coalition, told The Nation that ICE targeting communities for protesting the president sets a dangerous precedent.
“ICE is surveilling our communities based on not only the fact that they are speaking out,” said Das, “but who they are speaking out against.”
That’s the beginning of a slippery slope to the kind of crackdown on speech the country should avoid, Das added.
“The fact that we have an agency as powerful as ICE targeting our communities because they have chosen to speak out against President Trump and his harsh immigration policies should disturb every American who believes this kind of dissent is critical for protecting our democracy,” Das said.
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