On Saturday, March 12, a group of 12 community leaders graduated from the inaugural session of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles-sponsored Citizens Academy.
The graduation was the culmination of nine weeks of training sessions during which the participants experienced a unique, inside look at what HSI agents do on a daily basis, increased their understanding of the laws the agency investigates, and received a basic overview of the organizational and operational structure.
According to Jennifer Reyes, HSI Los Angeles Group Supervisor and organizer of the Citizens Academy, planning for the Los Angeles session began in 2015. It was modeled after the first-ever HSI-sponsored Citizens Academy, which was held in San Juan in 2014.
With an objective of bolstering relationships with key community partners, HSI Los Angeles recruited participants from diverse employment areas including media, congressional affairs, non-government agencies and the financial industry to attend the academy. HSI employees nominated members of the community who they felt would be suitable candidates. The office wanted to promote dialogue, build awareness, and provide additional avenues for reporting violations of law.
All participants went through an active vetting process that included questionnaires and background checks. Once cleared, sessions began in January and were held every Wednesday evening for three hours. Participants learned about HSI operations through their participation in criminal case simulations and real-life scenarios from various investigative groups within the agency.
The students took part in an evolving case, which progressed each week. Each session started with an overview of the topic, and then the presentation was reinforced with a dynamic scenario.
Having a hands-on experience was eye-opening for the participants. The public often only sees one perspective of law enforcement in the media and in entertainment, so the nine-week course was able to convey how difficult HSI’s job is while also revealing the large landscape of investigations as well as partnerships HSI has with other components.
The graduation ceremony was attended by the participants’ families. SAC Macias presented each student with a certificate.
“I’m hoping as they move forward with a better understanding of HSI, they will help educate others about our diverse mission,” said Reyes.