ICE facility captain’s neo-Nazi links reflect systemic racism, immigration lawyers say

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(Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Vice News reported this week that a local captain at a U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement facility in Pahrump wrote numerous posts on a white supremacist Internet group. While calling facts reported by Vice disturbing, Michael Kagan, the director of UNLV’s immigration clinic, said the problem is much bigger than one person. 

“This is not isolated, and that’s what makes (the article) so alarming,” Kagan said. 

Though there have been stories in the past of racism behind immigration enforcement, Kagan noted more recent reporting has shown U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents writing racist and sexist posts on secret Facebook groups and ICE agents using slurs against immigrants. 

“This (article) follows a highest ranking ICE official locally who, on the record, echoed white supremacist talking points and said her agency’s role was to prevent immigrants from having babies,” Kagan said. He was referencing the acting deputy field office director of ICE in Nevada, who told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in August that undocumented individuals who were out on bond while waiting hearings “could have three more babies.”

“This gives people reason to think immigration law is being used as a tool of a racist agenda rather than a neutral law enforcement agency,” Kagan said.

Vice’s latest article, which was published Monday, reported Travis Frey, a senior employee at the Nevada Southern Detention Center — the facility is run by the private prison firm CoreCivic and contracted with ICE — was active on a neo-Nazi website called Iron March. 

Kagan said it is alarming that a person with those connections would have power over a facility that primarily holds people of color. 

Dee Sull, another local immigration attorney, added that she wasn’t surprised by the article but still quite disturbed. 

“My own clients have had problems where some of the (staff) come in to kick their beds to wake them up for no reason,” she said. “Reading the article made me think if (racism) was translating into real action.”

Sull argued the overall anti-immigrant mentalities can seep into how the facility is run. “It doesn’t make sense that you’d come into a room and kick a person’s bed while they are sleeping unless you’re predisposed to thinking you’re a superior race and that you can get away with it,” she said. 

Going forward, Sull said she is going to be more cognizant of clients’ body language and ask more directly about any harassment they might have faced. 

Following the article’s publication, Vice reported Frey was placed on administrative leave. 

Sull is still concerned how Frey could have influenced other staff members. “How many people did he work around or how many people did he have a chance to influence and recruit to his cause?” she said. 

The situation, Sull argued, also highlights the lack of oversight at ICE facilities. “There is no mechanism really to get a proper inquiry,” she said.

She added she has voiced other complaints, such as client interpreters being denied visitation rights. 

In a statement ICE provided to Vice, it said “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds those working within our facilities to the highest standards of professional conduct. The incident in question does not involve a federal employee.”

Kagan countered the systemic racism reported isn’t isolated to CoreCivic but rather permeates throughout ICE and CBP.

ICE’s ability to punt responsibility to its contractor CoreCivic further shows the problem of using private contractors. “They aren’t required to disclose public information and aren’t subjected to the same oversight as government agencies,” Kagan added. “But ICE’s entire deportation system couldn’t operated without CoreCivic.”

However, Kagan said solutions shouldn’t just be getting rid of individuals but rather overhauling the larger system.

“We need a top to bottom review of immigration enforcement to look at its mission and enforcement priorities and any connection its personnel has to white supremacy,” Kagan said. “You also can’t ignore the President of the United States who speaks of immigrants in highly racist terms, talked about shithole countries, suggested Mexicans are rapists and that a Mexican-American couldn’t be a federal judge.”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.