Trump 'declaring war on our neighborhoods'

Congressman Garcia raps ICE plans for $1M military training site with ‘hyper-realistic’ replica of Chicago

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speaks in defense of immigrants at a Chicago news conference this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speaks in defense of immigrants at a Chicago news conference this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

A freshman Illinois congressman is attacking the Trump administration over its plans to train immigration agents in “urban warfare” on a $1 million set designed to depict “hyper-realistic” Chicago neighborhoods.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Chicago charged that President Trump “is declaring war on our neighborhoods” in a news release issued Monday on a proposal for a $1 million training facility for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Newsweek reported on the proposal earlier this month, finding that ICE had requested bids for a new training facility for its Special Response Team. According to the weekly newsmagazine, the request for proposals sought "‘hyper-realistic props/design’ that simulate ‘residential houses, apartments, hotels, government facilities and commercial buildings,’ along with other training configurations.” It cited language stating that “hyper-realistic is defined as 'such a high degree of fidelity in the replication of battlefield conditions in the training environment that participants so willingly suspend disbelief that they become totally immersed and eventually stress-inoculated.’”

According to Newsweek, the proposal was posted on a federal website, and while ICE attempted to redact the location it was readily determined to be Fort Benning, Ga., an Army training base.

ICE sought the creation of three settings: one resembling a Chicago neighborhood, another resembling Arizona, and another as a “fishbowl” allowing higher officers and other trainees to monitor from above. Newsweek reported: “The new training center is expected to be part of an expansion at Fort Benning, a U.S. Army post straddling the Alabama-Georgia border next to Columbus, Ga., which is expected to see as many as 50 additional buildings added to the site.”

In Monday’s statement, Garcia railed at what he called “the militarization of ICE.”

According to Garcia, the $1 million contract has already been awarded to a firm called Strategic Operations, which states on its website that it specializes in “realistic battlefield effects.”

“I am shocked and outraged by recent reports detailing ICE’s plans to construct  an ‘urban warfare’ training facility on a military base, to provide hyper-realistic simulations of Chicago neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “This decision is a clear indication that ICE, under the direction of President Donald Trump, is declaring war on our neighborhoods.

“Strategic Operations, the company ICE selected to carry out this disturbing plan, describes their services as ‘training services in the field of urban warfare … including weapons special effects, namely, rocket-propelled grenades, mines, improvised devices … to simulate the fog of war,’” Garcia added. “These descriptions are troublesome and truly sinister. This program shows the extent of the militarization of ICE agents.”

Garcia charged that Trump is “putting the communities I represent in the crosshairs of an increasingly militarized ICE. His decision to wage urban warfare on our communities only tears apart families. The Trump administration is going to outrageous lengths to demonize immigrants and falsely portray them as a threat to national security. An attack on one community, including immigrants, is an attack on us all.”

Trump threatened mass immigration roundups this summer and specifically mentioned Chicago as a possible target, although they have yet to materialize. Garcia and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky criticized what they called “fear tactics” at the time while defending an undocumented immigrant who’s sought sanctuary at a Chicago church in the Humboldt Park area for two years.

Not coincidentally, Block Club Chicago reported Sunday that five Trump supporters from California under the leadership of conservative pundit Ben Bergquam of Frontline America came to Chicago over the weekend and accosted Pastor Emma Lozano at a church in the heavily Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood. Lozano is part of a network of Methodist churches providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants — including the woman in Humboldt Park — and also founded the grassroots group Centro Sin Fronteras.


“When your freedom of speech is laced with venom and lies, I think we have to challenge that.”

Pastor Emma Lozano (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Block Club reported: “The men appeared to be mistaking the Chicago-based Centro Sin Fronteras — which was founded as Pueblo Sin Fronteras and is also known as Familia Latina Unida — with a transnational organization of a similar name that ‘promotes accompaniment, humanitarian assistance … and know-your-rights training along migrant routes,’ according to their website. … Lozano said her organization has no affiliation with the transnational organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras and she doesn’t know anyone from that group. She said she thinks she was targeted because she has helped provide sanctuary to refugees and undocumented immigrants who are appealing deportation.”

Lozano also blamed the rogue raid on a conspiracy theory advanced by conservative commentator Glenn Beck and debunked by Newsweek. According to Block Club, the Trump supporters entered the church and shot video, and then engaged in arguments with Pilsen residents outside for almost an hour. Chicago Police were called and monitored events, but no police report was filed.

“When your freedom of speech is laced with venom and lies, I think we have to challenge that,” Lozano told Block Club. “When you come into a place like that, you’re provocateurs. That should be a crime.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday that, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, five employees at Route 66 Pizza on the Southeast Side were detained by ICE agents. Lightfoot tweeted: “We are actively monitoring the situation and engaging with community partners for more information on this incident.”

Garcia focused on the ICE training, calling on the agency to “provide a clear explanation of this heinous, irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars to send military-trained ICE agents into the homes and businesses of our neighbors and fellow Chicagoans,” adding, “We must stand united against efforts to terrorize our communities and prevent the further militarization of ICE.”