ICE agents impersonating missionaries to make arrests

December 26, 2009 | 44 comments
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At least, that’s what’s alleged in this interview with UCSB professor Jacqueline Stevens:

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.

It’s a pretty alarming interview, in a number of regards.

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44 Responses to ICE agents impersonating missionaries to make arrests

  1. Chris Henrichsen on December 26, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Yikes. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  2. Ardis Parshall on December 26, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Outrageous.

  3. E on December 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    That is extremely disturbing.

  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 26, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Guess it is time for a FOIA request.

  5. Tim on December 26, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    First, they detain LDS missionaries. Now they impersonate them.
    Wow.
    ICE keeps stooping lower and lower.

  6. WillF on December 27, 2009 at 12:12 am

    …and here I thought people in my mission were just being paranoid when they asked us if we “la CIA.”

  7. Mark D. on December 27, 2009 at 12:25 am

    If this is really going on, some LDS senator should make a public issue out of it. It is entirely unfair to impersonate representatives from a specific religious denomination, and a relatively controversial one at that.

    If that doesn’t work, and it is against the law already, the Church should consider suing the federal government to make them stop. Presumably an open and shut case, right?

  8. Kent Larsen on December 27, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Ouch! This could be very damaging to missionary efforts. All we need is to let potential investigators have one more reason to keep the door shut.

    Maybe we can get Glen Beck to weigh in on this one? [GRIN]

  9. Blain on December 27, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Some of the response I’m getting to this is that this is not actually happening. I’m hitting up my congresscritters to get ICE to go on the record visibly to address this and make it clear that this is not going on (if it’s not) or, if it is, that it’s stopping. The problem, to me, is that this idea is out there, and that makes for a lot of damage to missionary activities even if it’s not true.

  10. Peter on December 27, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Yeah, I saw that last week too. I don’t actually recommend siccing the Glenn Beck crowd on ICE, since the issue would be transformed from a fairly straight-forward free exercise issue to headlines like “Obama orders ICE to impersonate Mormon missionaries!” Also, I agree with Blain in that the mere idea that ICE impersonation occurs can cause just as much damage as the actual practice.

  11. Geoff B on December 27, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Another example of the extreme measures taken because of anti-immigrant hysteria. I hope more details come to light in the coming months. I agree that LDS senators need to make an issue out of this.

  12. gst on December 27, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Is this really against the law? (I understand that it’s bad.) What is the statute?

    I remember that the CIA used to get grief for doing this. They’d dress up like Catholic monks or priests to move around Angola in the 70s, among other places.

  13. Mark D. on December 27, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Apparently there is no statute. The argument is that the practice is unconstitutional. See the Jacqueline Stevens article here.

  14. Dan on December 27, 2009 at 11:13 am

    The practice would be unconstitutional because it inhibits a religion from its free practice as protected by the Constitution. Because Mormonism, along with other such religions, practice proselytizing, if the government uses that as a ruse to capture people, it essentially destroys that religion’s ability to practice proselytizing, because proselytizing then becomes synonymous with secret government agents.

  15. Jettboy on December 27, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Prove it first. Unless, what is bad for Glen Beck (as insinuated here) is good for UCSB professor Jacqueline Stevens. Frankly, Glen Beck often has more prove, like actual videos, than this professor who sounds like is holding a grudge.

  16. Tim on December 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Jettboy,
    Most of us are certainly awaiting more “prove.” This would be a perfect item for the Salt Lake Tribune to investigate.
    Assuming the article is correct, however, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it. Would you be repulsed? Or is enforcing immigration laws more important to you?

  17. Jettboy on December 27, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    “Would you be repulsed? Or is enforcing immigration laws more important to you?”

    Why must I have a dichotomy between the proof and immigration laws? I would be saddened, but not repulsed. There are things I feel a lot more strongly about than a few ICE agents doing their jobs with poor judgment. If anything I am repulsed by ILLEGAL immigrants who come in by the hundreds of thousands a year with many committing crimes (often violent gang related) and take advantage of the tax payer. They have no respect or loyalty to the U.S. or its Laws and Constitution. When in trouble they flee out the country to return when things have cooled off. I’ll leave the Constitutionality of a few ICE members to the LEGAL Courts to decide. If this is even happening outside the biased imagination of the Professor.

  18. Chris Henrichsen on December 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Jettboy,

    Thanks for making my morning.

  19. HELENA on December 27, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I’m not sure I quite get the outrage, or even understand the scenario. So, ICE agents are wearing white shirts with short sleeves and dark pants. And neckties. Don’t millions of other people in the US? Don’t they, and other business people, often travel in pairs or threes?

    Now, if the supposed impostors had name tags that read “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or if they actually wore temple garments, maybe I would see the point.

  20. Chris Henrichsen on December 27, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    HELANA,

    Pretty much only Mormons dress like that while knocking on doors in low-incoming neighborhoods. I am hoping you are being sarcastic.

  21. Alex T. Valencic on December 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    This sounds a lot like an incident in the mid-90s when LA police officers on bicycles were wearing black pants, white shirts, and dark ties. My oldest brother served his mission there around then and told us about it.

    It would be nice if some Mormon Congress-folk pushed ICE to admit whether or not this is happening. Would be nicer if it was a non-Mormon member of Congress.

  22. Clark on December 27, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. They may have stopped the practice but in my mission the FBI did a bust with some of their agents dressed as missionaries that caused quite a problem. (It was in a high crime area that already wasn’t the safest) I remember our mission president being quite upset over it.

    On the other hand here’s a funny story of impersonation going the other way.

  23. Ken on December 27, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    So … they can impersonate us, but we can’t impersonate them??? That doesn’t exactly seem fair! ;D

  24. Blain on December 27, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    My source who discounts this report out of hand is former Secret Service. We have a couple of guys in the ward who work for DHS (I think one’s in ICE, although he’s more of a pencil pusher than a field agent), so I could check with them if you want.

    I think it might be worthwhile to explore the evidence behind this claim.

  25. Peter on December 27, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I’d like to see some more info too (is anyone really serious about a FOIA request?), but ICE is sufficiently removed from Secret Service that a former SS agent has little authority on the issue, particularly given the assertion that this is a recent tactic.

  26. Kent Larsen on December 28, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Peter, Jacqueline Stevens’ article in “The Nation” (which MarkD cited) is very explicit about her sources for this claim. Beyond that, yes, it would be nice to have ICE explain what they were doing, if not impersonating missionaries.

  27. Sean on December 28, 2009 at 3:59 am

    How horrible!

  28. Blain on December 28, 2009 at 6:14 am

    25 — Federal law enforcement isn’t terribly separated when it comes to the rules under which they can engage in ruses as a means of gathering evidence, and the court cases that restrict them. He cited as an example a case where an agent (didn’t mention the agency) dressed up as a Catholic priest and showed up at a family’s home and told them that their child had died, and, while inside the home, saw things that provided grounds for their subsequent arrest. That case was thrown out as the agent’s behavior was found to be a form of entrapment. I will accept that he may well not have direct information about current ICE practices — he made no claim of such knowledge in his response.

    26 — She is explicit about what several of her sources are, but they are something short of definitive on the question: a woman whose husband was arrested, her attorney, an unnamed friend and several unnamed people in ICE, including one whose identity was unknown to the author. The only named individuals have a definite interest in casting aspersions on ICE practices, and there is no corroboration of their claims. There is ample reason for withholding condemnation of ICE based on the scantiness of the evidence that they have done what they are accused of.

    I remain more concerned about having the allegation appearing in the wild, and its impacts on missionaries, than I am convinced that there is merit to them at this point. I would like to see what ICE’s response to this is, particularly if they can provide further evidence that either corroborates or contradicts these claims.

  29. Forest Simmons on December 28, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    The book of Jermiah and the D&C both attest that in the last days the Lord will “make a full end to all nations.”

    And it seems that the brethren realize how artificial the political boundaries are: lack of documentation is not grounds for denying baptism or a temple recommend.

    You might say that an undocumented immigrant is flouting the law, and therefore is not temple worthy.

    The brethren would disagree with you.

  30. Adam Greenwood on December 28, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    No kidding that’s alarming. Heads should roll (if the reports are accurate–Blain’s #28 is food for thought).

  31. Matt Evans on December 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    #19 and 20, Helena’s comments are exactly right. From the accusations in the post and article there’s no explanation of how ICE is allegedly “impersonating” Mormon missionaries that, as Julie Smith argued, dress like parking lot attendants. The woman in the article acknowledged the ICE agents didn’t have name tags like missionaries, and didn’t act like missionaries, either. Until we know more, it seems the outrage rests on an implicit claim that the church has protectable tradedress rights for two men wearing white shirts and ties.

  32. Matt Evans on December 28, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    and, because this whole story appears to stem from a single woman’s account of mistaken identity, had a single agent come to her door wearing a suit, we’d probably be hearing that ICE agents are impersonating Mormon bishops. Or if it had been three agents they’re impersonating Mormon bishoprics. Or EQ presidencies if one of the agents wore a fleece jacket.

  33. Jman08 on December 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    These agents were undercover and did their job. We need more sting operations like this to rid our country of these ILLEGAL immigrants. It is a slap in the face to the many LEGAL immigrants in this country!!

  34. Chris Henrichsen on December 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Matt (#31),

    “it seems the outrage rests on an implicit claim that the church has protectable tradedress rights for two men wearing white shirts and ties.”

    I think the issue is one of cultural symbolism. I do not think anyone was thinking that this violated some sort of trademark. However, this might do damage to the work and put missionaries.

    Jman08,

    Maybe Lou Dobbs, for his next job, will start a church that recognizes the true significance of worldly political borders.

  35. Chris Henrichsen on December 28, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Forgot to finish the sentence. It should read:

    “I think the issue is one of cultural symbolism. I do not think anyone was thinking that this violated some sort of trademark. However, this might do damage to the work and put missionaries at risk.”

  36. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    As far as fear of Mormon missionaries because people think they are law enforcment agents: That is sort of unavoidable in an era when very few people wear coats and ties and white shirts and have short haircuts and no facial hair, except people who are representing behaviorally conservative institutions like the police, law firms and process servers, and churches. I encountered that when I went on “splits” with the missionaries looking up referrals in the black Maryland subuurbs of Washington, DC. I think almost any missionary who serves in an urban area has had someone answer the door very belatedly, after flushing drugs down a toilet.

    Clearly, wearing name tags that announce quite clearly that our missionaries are from the Church is about the only thing they can do to ameliorate the fear. On the other hand, I would expect that the uncertainty about their identity has protected more than one missionary from being accosted by some thugs, even as it may have made them a target for others.

    I do know that rumors spread by communists in Hong Kong, claiming that Mormons were CIA agents, were responsible for the missionaries having to be withdrawn for many months in the late 1960s. Such rumors are certainly behind other visa difficulties for the Church in other countries.

    If a law enforcement agent used a ruse to gain entry in an emergency in order to save a life, I wouldn’t mind. On the other hand, if some officers are claiming to be Mormon missionaries on a repeated basis, they need to be reined in; it becomes a real-life version of the outrageous anti-Mormon anti-Proposition 8 commercial that was shown in California. If any are actually using fake LDS name tags, the Church should sue the agency for defamation and placing the Church in a false light, as well as any other intellectual property claim possible, just as Microsoft would do if they were using fake company ID. If this is really happening, the Church needs to denounce it loud and clear and press Congress and the Administration to stop it.

  37. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 28, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    By the way, we should not forget that law enforcement officers often ARE Mormons. I have worked with a number of them over the years. I would hope, however, that they would understand the reasons why they should not add to the normal confusion and actually claim to be missionaries when they are working in their law enforcement capacity. The officers I have worked with had never, in my knowledge, done such a thing, maintaining a distinction between their Church membership and their police work–even when the people they were arresting were members of the elders quorum or ward they themselves led as quorum president or bishop.

  38. Jim Donaldson on December 28, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I can verify what RTS said about dress in urban areas. I’ve lived in one for 35 years. Simply no one will answer a door if you are two unknown guys wearing jackets and a ties; otherwise, maybe. But you are wasting your time doing visits to people who aren’t expecting you all dressed for church. I suspect the law enforcement or legal industry connection is the reason, but whatever it is, it is true.

  39. Kaimi on December 28, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    A Salt Lake Trib article today followed up on the story. (See http://www.sltrib.com/faith/ci_14082628 ). It’s a nice write-up. The short version: There’s one witness to allegations; ICE denies it; the original interview subject expressed disbelief in ICE’s denial.

  40. Matt Evans on December 28, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    The cultural symbolism of dress shirts and ties doesn’t belong to Mormons, but we could make a strong argument that the combination of a pair of 19-year-olds wearing dress shirts, silk ties and bicycle helmets does.

  41. Jettboy on December 29, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Sorry guys, I was wrong. Oh wait, no I wasn’t. Unless you agree with the professor that ICE and the LDS Church that isn’t too concerned with the allegations is lying.

  42. Kaimi Wenger on December 29, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Another update: KSL has a story on this, and reports that the ACLU is investigating the claim.

    http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=9174810

  43. Forest Simmons on December 31, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    For those of you that think that our undocumented Latino brothers and sisters should all be deported, answer me this: Why should the USA be more exclusive than the Kingdom of God on Earth?

  44. dsilversmith on January 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    If ICE agents are dreesing up as Mormons, can I as a Mormon Dress up and act as an ICE agent?

    “MORMON ICE” The new rap group.

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