Activists are staging a social media campaign against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an effort to derail its controversial new training program, which will instruct citizens on law enforcement tactics used by the immigration agency.
The activists have created email templates and encouraged people to send applications with false information to ICE in order to sabotage the program’s application process.
“The idea is to flood ICE with thousands of fake applications so that they will be so overwhelmed that they won’t be able to find legitimate applications and run the program at all,” Alyssa Rubin, campaigns director for Never Again Action, which is organizing the effort, told Motherboard in an email.
Concerns about the ICE program arose when it was first announced, causing local activists in Chicago to worry the six-week course would act as a vigilante training camp. According to a report by NPR, a section of a letter inviting community members to apply stated that attendees would be offered training in “defensive tactics, firearms familiarization, and targeted arrests.”
In a press release published earlier this month, ICE announced it would be launching the program, which it calls a “Citizens Academy,” as a way “for participants to become familiar with how and why ICE carries out its mission.”
The six-week program will be based in Chicago and is modeled after law enforcement academies conducted by other agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and local police departments. The curriculum will include classroom instruction and a visit to an immigration detention center.
“ICE is inviting interested participants from a variety of stakeholder backgrounds such as community groups, state and local elected leaders, Congressional staff, consular officials, and business and religious leaders,” the press release stated.
But members of Chicago’s community and even the city’s mayor have been skeptical of the purpose of the law enforcement academy. As news of the program began to spread on social media, Never Again Action shared a form on Twitter encouraging people to flood the online application process by emailing in fake applications.
“We need to disrupt ICE at every level of its operations, and we realized that we could harness the power of the internet to materially get in the way of ICE, even in the middle of a pandemic,” said Rubin.
The effort follows a trend of activists turning to social media and online platforms to stage their protests. As an example, Motherboard reported in May how a hacker was able to write a script that allowed people to automatically send junk data to Ohio’s controversial Covid-19 Fraud website.
“We were definitely inspired by teens on TikTok who encouraged each other to RSVP for Trump’s Oklahoma rally, as well as the K-pop fans who flooded the police scanner app in Dallas, Texas earlier this year,” said Rubin. “People have been using these kinds of creative tactics for a long time.”
ICE has long faced criticism over its mass-deportation tactics and the forced separation of migrant families, as well as the conditions of its camps and detention centers. To many across the country, the federal agency has become the most visible symbol of the aggressive immigration policies enacted by President Trump and his administration.
ICE did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.