If anyone knows Phoenix, it's Rudy Bustamante. He's spent his entire life there, serving in community roles ranging from police detective to school board member. When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was looking for a community relations officer for the Phoenix area, Bustamante was the perfect fit. Two years into the position, he works tirelessly to educate advocacy groups, schools, neighborhoods, and local law enforcement agencies about ICE.
"People are totally surprised at what we do," he said.
It's a common misconception that ICE focuses only on immigration. While that's part of the agency's mission, ICE also serves as the largest investigative agency in the Department of Homeland Security. ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents enforce customs laws, conduct drug and human smuggling investigations, detect financial fraud, and more.
"Rudy is able clear up miscommunication about what each federal agency's role is," said Michael Nowakowski, a Phoenix city councilman. "Rudy has helped bring the community together and understand the role of ICE. Everyone wants to lock up bad people. If you're smuggling human bodies across the border, you're going to jail. No one wants to have a human smuggler next door."
Like Nowakowski, people want to know what's happening in their communities, especially when ICE is involved.
"I'll call my contacts from my cell phone from the scene when we execute a search warrant. That provides them with an idea of what's going on, and they appreciate that," said Bustamante.
You'll also find Bustamante making presentations at schools and meeting with advocacy group leaders at local coffee shops. He considers in-person meetings to be of great importance because that's how he builds rapport and trust with the local community.
During those interactions, he uses the Steven R. Covey quote, "Seek to understand; then to be understood," as a guiding principle.
In order to be effective, "You must first listen. Then, you can share what you have to offer and how you can help out," said Bustamante. "ICE employees are part of the community. They work here, go to school here. They have a vested interest in keeping your community safe."