WASHINGTON — Members of Congress want the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to stop building training facilities for its officials modeled after US cities, they wrote in a new letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The government is due to pay $961,347.75 to Strategic Operations — a manufacturer of tactical training products run by a former TV and film producer — to duplicate neighborhoods of Chicago and cities in Arizona for ICE tactical training. The company will use “hyper-realistic” designs to simulate houses, apartments, hotels, commercial buildings, and government facilities, according to a government document.
The new training facility — to be built in Fort Benning, Georgia, at the Department of Homeland Security’s 182,000-acre facility — has alarmed some members of Congress who represent the areas being replicated.
Rep. Jesús García of Chicago will send a letter to ICE’s acting director requesting the government agency rescind contracts to build the military-style facilities, citing “deep concerns” about a facility modeled after areas in his district.
“Military training will result in agents defining my neighbors as the ‘enemy’, and harden them to the inhumanity of ripping mothers and fathers from their children,” García told BuzzFeed in an email. “This decision is nothing short of a declaration of war on our neighborhoods and violates our core American values.”
The letter is signed by seven other members of Congress, including Illinois Reps. Danny Davis, Mike Quigley, Bill Foster, Bobby Rush, and Jan Schakowsky. Arizona Reps. Ruben Gallego and Raúl Grijalva also signed on, calling the training facility “a waste of tax-payer dollars” that betrays the public’s trust.
“Imagine copies of Chicago homes from my neighborhood sitting in a warehouse on a military base — built with details like toys in the yard and dishes on the kitchen table,” García said. “This has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with the Republican anti-immigrant agenda to normalize violence against our communities.”
The Arizona replicas will stand 8 feet tall and duplicate single-family homes with driveways, according to documents. The Chicago build-outs will feature three 40-foot-tall shipping containers made to look like adjoining two-story apartment buildings.
The contractor provides Hollywood-like combat props from state-of-the-art battlefields to replica weapons. The owner of Strategic Operations, Stu Segall, transitioned into the military-training simulation industry in 2002 after producing TV shows in San Diego. Before Segall ventured into production, he had a career as an adult film director during the 1970s and early 1980s, responsible for films like Teeny Buns, a 71-minute film in which college students “use their plentiful assets to cover college tuition.”
Segall did not return calls for comment, but Kevin Waskow, vice president of contracts at Strategic Operations, told BuzzFeed News in an email that the company was unable to provide information regarding this procurement.
Chicago, a sanctuary city, has been the target of ICE’s “family ops” raids, which targeted 10 major cities nationwide, including New York City and Houston. President Donald Trump first announced the raids in a tweet mid-June.
Government documents that detail the contract say the venue will help ICE’s expanding Special Response Teams — a unit specifically dedicated to handling “hardened criminals, such as drug cartels and violent gang members,” according to ICE’s website.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment as to when the build-outs would be completed, but another government document describing the scope of the work states the contractor has 60 days to complete the job from the time the contract is awarded. Strategic Operations won the contract mid-September.