ICE’s Awful App to Report Child Predators Gamifies Racism

ICE often runs deportation flights, like this one to Guatemala. John Moore/Getty Images

Social media was reeling this morning from the news that federal agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lost track of almost 1,500 migrant children who had been placed with sponsors.

These children—mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—had shown up alone at America’s southwest border. ICE couldn’t verify whether they had been placed with relatives or taken by human traffickers.

The agency may not take good care of its child charges, but it seems very concerned about predators snatching them up. In fact, it even has a game-like app where American citizens can report those unsavory characters.

ICE’s Operation Predator app seeks the public’s help in finding fugitive child traffickers and reporting new ones.

Available for iOS and Google Play, the app sends alerts about wanted predators (including mug shots). Users can then share this information via email and social media.

Some Twitter users noted that citizens could game the system by simply reporting anyone who speaks Spanish or “looks Hispanic.” As such, anyone with even a passing resemblance to a suspect on the list is in danger of being snatched up

That may seem like a fun challenge to the user, but a tiny mistake could turn a person’s life upside down.

The danger continues in the reporting section of the app. ICE instructs informants to be “specific and detailed” by providing places of birth, countries of citizenship and Social Security numbers.

Of course, someone who was determined enough could likely make that information up, putting their own little twist on the game.

Admittedly most of the game-like aspects are user generated (depending on how enthusiastic the “player” is). But at the end, ICE adds a little flourish of its own.

Once a predator is arrested or prosecuted, a red “ARRESTED” banner goes over their mug shot in the app. That means the players have successfully completed their mission and can go on to the next perp.

ICE’s ‘Operation Predator’ app. App Store

ICE also highlights the adventure in a commercial for Operation Predator. The 30-second primer on how the app works is punctuated by loud, dramatic drumbeats that make it seem like an exciting game.

The app does warn users to refer information to law enforcement officials instead of apprehending suspects themselves.

But judging by the app reviews, that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Some of the comments are earnest. For example, one woman asks for more information about the “predators on the loose” in the areas where she, her children and grandchildren live.

But most users are just trying to troll the federal government. One person on Google simply commented “Abolish ICE.” Another user posted an extended summary of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Predator.

Since the app’s users don’t take the game seriously, and ICE’s own agents can’t keep track of children or predators, it’s no wonder many people are joining that Google Play commenter to say “Abolish ICE.” The agency really doesn’t seem to be doing any good.

ICE’s Awful App to Report Child Predators Gamifies Racism