The Emerging Abolish ICE Movement

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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:

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Get Tickets To Vanguard’s Immigration Rights Event

Eventbrite - Immigration Law: Defending Immigrant Rights and Keeping Families Together


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 thoughts on “The Emerging Abolish ICE Movement”

  1. Tia Will

    “ICE agents are simply doing their job as prescribed by the law.”

    This overly simplistic statement ignores the difference between a job as prescribed by law, and a job defined by policy. Candidate Trump stated that his immigration policy would be focused on protecting America from foreign criminals including violent gang members and rapists. At no time did he suggest that his administration would enact anything like the admittedly brutal “deterrent policy” of zero tolerance with familial separation, like arresting parents of children at school, church goers, and people obtaining medical care as targets for deportation.

    ICE as originally conceived was a protective agency. As it currently exists, it has transformed into an agency which legitimizes fear for political purposes.  This agency, in my opinion, has become an excellent candidate for “repeal and replace”.


    1. David Greenwald

      From a policy standpoint I think you have an interesting issue here.  On the one hand, the people who respond to the abolish ICE movement are correct in pointing out that even if ICE is abolished, someone will carry on the policies.  The question then is – is ICE irreparably corrupt and would another agencies like Customs, be better.  I think that’s an open question.

      1. Keith O

        Conservatives love the images of Ice Out and ANTIFA creating chaos.  They are the best thing conservatives have going for them right now along with the booming economy and 3.9% unemployment rate.

  2. Eric Gelber

    Abolishing ICE won’t change things as long as policy is being set by the administration and enabled by Congress. Regardless of Keith’s bravado, conservatives are in a panic about the upcoming midterms. And the administration’s cruel and overbearing immigration policies will play a central role in the outcome.

    1. Keith O

      I think you’re wrong about people being mad about the Admin’s immigration policies.  I think a huge majority support tougher immigration policies.  We will see, I remember you guys saying Trump didn’t have a chance not all that long ago.

      1. Ken A

        There are a lot of people in California paying a gardener $50/month and/or $10/hr for someone to clean their homes that know they will need to pay more if they are forced to hire a “legal” US resident to do the same job that don’t want “tougher immigration policies”…

        1. Jeff M

          Howard, like others, has become conveniently dismissive of the fact that we have always been a voting republic and not a direct democracy.  Good thing too… otherwise Lincoln would not have been elected and the south would be another country with slaves.

  3. John Hobbs

    I always thought Customs and Border Patrol did a good enough job. The policies of the Trump administration are inhumane and violate international standards of human rights. Many in Europe believe  he can be indicted by the ICJ in the Hague for crimes against humanity. They’ll give him a better deal than the US law prescribes for treason edited

    [moderator] comment edited. Please review this from the Vanguard Comment Policy:
    Pejorative references to any general class of people are strongly discouraged. The Editorial Board asks commenters to understand that general insults discourage the participation of others. They contribute to a negative tone and strongly suggest disrespect for the views of others. In some cases, general insults oversimplify the positions of others, which is detrimental to informed and respectful debate. General insults that are provocative are especially discouraged.

    1. Jim Hoch

      Pejorative references to any general class of people are strongly discouraged” Unless they are white people from North Carolina in which case have at it. 

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Debating Moderator Practices. An article’s comments section won’t be used to debate these guidelines or a decision of the Content Moderator.”

        2. Jim Hoch

          I did not “debate” the moderators guidelines or decision. I was merely seeking to add information about the practices of the moderator.

          But perhaps that only applies to failed attorneys. I’m not clear on that point.

    2. Jerry Waszczuk

      Policies did not change . Obama with Napolitano in charge of Homeland Security were   doing exactly what Trump’s administration does . Obama build enormous  deportation machine for Trump. The question is : How many more undocumented or documented unskilled   immigrants America can absorb?  American Detention Centers  looks like  nice resorts in comparison to the   European  refugee camps.

        1. Jerry Waszczuk

          I rather not go there to  find out . Since 1982 I have some comfort here as an refugee  and I am not looking for better refugee camp especially in Salvador or Guatemala.

  4. Jeff M

    IMO… The anti-ICE political agenda is going to prevent the Democrats from taking control of the House.

    It is also helps brand the left as racist as they did not make this an issue under Obama.

    Lastly, it is driving a wedge into the Democrat party at the very time that the Democrat party has new candidates moving to the center after the party realized that left extremism loses elections.

      1. Howard P

        Question… still ok to challenge “moderation” off-line (directly to you/Don/??)?  Just not ‘here’?

        [moderator] you are always welcome to email me at, and if you don’t want to discuss things with me you can contact David.

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