The Department of Homeland Security plans on hiring 15,000 new immigration agents to increase its presence in local cities, keeping pace with Donald Trump’s desired deportation mandate. But as immigrant communities brace for a new wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, a disturbing new trend has emerged: people are buying fake ICE gear online, from T-shirts and hats to official-looking badges and jackets, and posing as officers.
On June 4, a man wearing an ICE jacket attended a Spanish-language church service at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in San Rafael, California, where he took photos and recorded videos of congregants before abruptly leaving. A local CBS affiliate reported that the man, whose name was not released by police, is a city employee and had driven to the church in a car with city plates.
Lucia Martel-Dow, director of immigration legal services at the San Rafael-based immigrant advocacy group Canal Alliance, told The Outline that one of the congregants took a video of the man and sent it to the organization, which in turn forwarded it to police.
“We have never seen anything like this happening before, at least that I’m aware of,” Martel-Dow said. “When they sent the video, they were convinced it was an ICE agent. That was their perception — we don’t see people impersonating ICE every day. Most people here tend to be pretty pro-immigrant — with some exceptions of course — but it’s just really odd.”
After a brief investigation, the San Rafael police department determined that the man wasn’t an ICE agent. He told officers he had ordered the jacket online and couldn’t “readily explain” why he was wearing it, the East Bay Times reported.
When they sent the video, they were convinced it was an ICE agent. That was their perception — we don’t see people impersonating ICE every day.
In February, a group of four men wearing ICE jackets approached an immigrant man in Woodside, Queens and told him he’d be deported unless he gave them money, a city councilman said. The man, who officials did not name in order to protect his family, handed over $250 before fleeing.
A month later, the FBI arrested Washington Post IT engineer Itai Ozderman for allegedly impersonating ICE officers. Ozderman became friends with officers in the Falls Church Police Department and convinced them he was affiliated with ICE, authorities said. Police found multiple guns, including two assault rifles, in his home, as well as a Baltimore County police badge, a police radio, and tactical vests.
ICE doesn’t seem to have an official policy on fake agency apparel, and anyone can buy the counterfeit goods online. A company called Prep Sportswear sells “agency pride” apparel, most of which simply reads “ICE” without any logos and hardly resembles official gear. If you want more realistic apparel, though, there’s always Etsy.
An embroidered ICE polo by Etsy user PhoenixGraphics will cost you just $19.99 plus shipping and handling, and if you want to step up your federal officer impersonation game, you can throw in some car decals with the Department of Homeland Security logo on them for just $2.25. (ICE officers’ uniforms vary. Some simply wear nylon ICE jackets that read “POLICE ICE,” while others wear police vests with “ICE” written on the back. Other officers, like the ones who arrested a transgender domestic violence victim earlier this year, conduct operations in plain clothes.)
Another Etsy user, JacTedUpTees, sells T-shirts that read “BORDER PATROL” and “POLICE ICE” for just $9.95 each. CheeseburgerDesign sells a shirt that claims its wearer is “POLICE ICE SPECIAL AGENT HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS.” None of the sellers provides any kind of disclaimer about impersonating officers, but CheeseBurgerDesign claims their shirt “represents those in law enforcement that strive to keep us safe.”
“Etsy does not allow illegal or counterfeit items, but items that are for entertainment purposes only may be allowed on Etsy, as long as they do not violate our policies. It is important to understand that Etsy is not a curated or juried marketplace. We evaluate items on a case by case basis as we become aware of them,” the company said in a statement.
But there’s no way for Etsy sellers, or for the company itself, to control what people do with the items they purchase on the website. Even if a seller has a disclaimer on their listing for a “POLICE ICE” shirt, there’s nothing stopping someone from buying fake ICE gear online and using it to harass immigrant communities.
James Schwab, a spokesperson for ICE’s field office in San Francisco, said anyone approached by a person claiming to be an ICE officer can ask to see a badge and credentials — but you can buy fake ICE badges online, too.
On eBay, fake ICE badges and lapel pins are available from multiple sellers, along with ICE-branded sweaters, hats, and fleece vests. And although a quick Google search shows that this unofficial ICE swag rarely resembles officers’ actual uniforms, it’s not always easy to tell at first glance.
A recent House bill would bar ICE employees from wearing vests and other apparel that identify them as police, including vests and jackets that read “POLICE ICE,” on the basis that this clothing tricks immigrants into letting ICE into their homes without a warrant — but no plans for a law prohibiting civilians from wearing fake ICE gear have been proposed.