The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in northern California thought it was funny to share an anti-Muslim joke on the social media — well, it wasn’t and soon he had to apologize.
David Jennings, director of the San Francisco ICE field office, made a poor attempt at humor when he shared a meme on the employment site LinkedIn.
According to the reports, the image featured three patio umbrellas intended to resemble three people in body-covering burqas along with the caption, “I spent 30 minutes talking to them to learn more about their culture until the barman told me they were umbrellas.”
Jennings further added to the caption by writing he was trying to use “lessons learned from my terrorism mentor … Guess I need more work.”
Jennings removed the post after he was called out for the xenophobic picture.
The ICE official said in a statement it was “directed to a former co-worker and instructor in Arab culture and was meant to poke fun at myself and use me as an example to show that everyone can and should keep learning about people from different cultures, including people like me with extensive experience working with different cultures and traditions.”
“I am horrified that the post would be taken as anything other than a dig at myself, but upon further reflection, I understand how it could be interpreted otherwise and am truly sorry,” he said. “It was not my intention to offend anyone and I hope that the explanation of my intent assuages any hurt the post may have inadvertently caused.”
Advocates of American-Muslims weren’t fully convinced by Jennings’ justification.
Dalia Mogahed, research director for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank in Washington, D.C., which works toward empowering American Muslims, said despite Jennings’ explanation that he was poking fun at himself, the post was “unsettling.”
“The ICE field director reproduced a link between terrorism and Muslims by tagging his ‘terrorism mentor’ on a post featuring a picture of what at first glance looks like Muslim women in full burqas,” she said.
Jennings, who supervises more than 300 ICE employees and 1,000 detainees, shared the image three months ago. The post was “liked” by another ICE official in a separate office.
This post alarmed immigration experts who expressed their concerns about the feelings Jennings appeared to harbor for Muslims. His mockery of Muslim women wearing burqa caught attention amid increased tension between California and the Trump administration over ICE enforcement and the state’s pro-immigrant sanctuary laws.
“That he did not see the problem with his post until it was pointed out worries me about his ability to lead and carry out his duties, particularly as they relate to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries,” said Zahra Billoo, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Bay Area. “Unfortunately, this follows the trend that our president and his administration have set in their offensive and often dangerous language.”
The image, Mogahed said, reinforces the “othering of Muslims as a strange, almost alien species, dehumanized to the point of being mistaken for inanimate objects.” The meme, she said, “plays on the stereotype of silent and subjugated Muslim women, where the non-response of the umbrellas was not an immediate tip-off that these weren’t human beings.”
The fact that Jennings holds a senior position in ICE made others wary about what motivates his enforcement decisions.
Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor and immigration expert at Santa Clara University School of Law, said the post “raises broader concerns about leadership in ICE, and how the supervisors of the largest federal law enforcement branch might dehumanize and ridicule minority cultures, races and religions, even as they are charged with investigating and enforcing against portions of those communities.”
Considering the fact that during his campaign President Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and the current crackdown of ICE officials on immigrants, such posts and that too from a senior agency official, are bound to stir unrest among people.
Banner image credits: REUTERS/Dwi Oblo