The movement to abolish ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has been growing for months, but it has recently been injected with life when in June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned many by unseating Joe Crowley, a leader among the Democrats in the house.
A Times article notes, “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory came after she criticized Mr. Crowley regularly on the campaign trail for voting to establish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in 2002. She called for the agency to be abolished.”
Other leaders on this issue include Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Senator Gillibrand told CNN, “I believe you should get rid of [ICE], start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works.”
ICE was formed as a new agency under those that were consolidated in 2003 under the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. What had been Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS, used to oversee the enforcement of legal immigration laws.
ICE now enforces as many as 400 federal immigration laws and works to remove people for violations of those laws. Duties include monitoring businesses for undocumented workers, but the border patrol is left to Customs and Border Protection, another agency that was created in 2003.
As the Times editorial pointed out, Democrats overwhelmingly voted to create ICE.
But that support is changing as President Trump has used ICE “to engage in a campaign of mass deportation.”
For instance, Ilhan Omar, running for the seat to replace Keith Ellison in Minnesota, told the Times that ICE has only been around for 15 years, but, “In that time, they have grown to be an agency whose mission is to tear families apart and put fear into immigrant, refugee and undocumented communities. ICE has only become increasingly militarized, brutal and unaccountable.”
In next month’s Atlantic, they run the article, “How Trump Radicalized ICE,” and it notes:
“Under the current administration, many of the formal restraints on ice have been removed. In the first eight months of the Trump presidency, ice increased arrests by 42 percent. Immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small clique of militant anti-immigration wonks. This group has carefully studied the apparatus it now controls. It knows that the best strategy for accomplishing its goal of driving out undocumented immigrants is quite simply the cultivation of fear. And it knows that the latent power of ice, amassed with the tacit assent of both parties, has yet to be fully realized.”
PBS points out in a recent article, “The idea of abolishing ICE has so far only attracted limited support from some Democrats in Congress. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., already introduced a bill to abolish ICE, and Washington Democratic Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal are working on another. But any attempt to phase out ICE is likely to face strong opposition in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.”
Defenders of the agency, like former acting director Thomas Homan, believe “ICE agents are simply doing their job as prescribed by the law.
“The system needs to be fixed. I’m the first one to agree to that,” Mr. Homan told PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff in May. “If the law doesn’t work, then fix the law. Don’t ask the law enforcement officer to ignore it. No one asks the FBI to ignore their job. No one asks the DEA to do their job. We’re no different.”
Independent Senator Angus King has hesitated to abolish the agency but wants Congress to re-examine it.
“I don’t know how you abolish an agency without abolishing the function, and I think the function is necessary,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
At the same time, he called on Congress to closely examine how the agency has carried out enforcement.
Historians like Deborah Kang, a professor at California State University San Marco and author of The INS on the Line: Making Immigration Law on the US-Mexico Border, notes that there has been a wholesale shift in ICE’s priorities under President Trump. Brutal experiences, she says, have “created the kind of opposition you’re seeing to ICE right now.”
She expects that if the protests grow louder, there will be some kind of action.
“What we’ve seen in the past is that when people protest and protest enough, there actually is change,” Professor Kang told PBS. “These protests do have an impact in helping to raising awareness of problems with our immigration bureaucracy and achieving some degree of reforms. These reforms are limited, but sometimes reforms can happen.”
However, Professor Kang notes that “just getting rid of ICE isn’t going to solve the problem.”
She believes that Congress would simply shift responsibility to another agency like Customs and Border Protection.
Issues like Family Separation are only deepening the call.
Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progress Caucus, cited increasingly racist overtones of the agency’s enforcement priorities: “They’re trying to send every possible signal that there are people who don’t belong in this country, and it’s not people from Norway. This is being done almost exclusively on race. Sitting in the parking lot outside of a Head Start school is not for the security of the country.”
As Javier H. Valdés, an executive director of Make the Road Action, put it, “This agency is the prime culprit in driving Trump’s efforts to wipe our community off the map. It is fueled by hatred toward immigrants of color and completely unaccountable and nontransparent about its abuse of our people. It is a stain on this country’s democracy and should be abolished immediately.”
The question at this point is whether the election of people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress mean that this abolish ICE movement gains establishment support, or whether it simply remains a fringe progressive group.
In the meantime, the Vanguard’s annual event focuses on the issue of Immigration Rights and brings you two attorneys who have been in the middle of this fight – SF Public Defender Matt Gonzalez and UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic Co-Director Holly Cooper. (To learn more or purchase tickets: http://vanguard-immigration.eventbrite.com).
—David M. Greenwald reporting