The Case for Disbanding ICE


LM Otero/AP


ICE, the immigration and customs enforcement agency, is out of control.

You’ve seen the stories. They’ve become ubiquitous over the last year. People who have lived in the U.S. since their early childhoods, very often without criminal records, sometimes veterans, are being deported at a head-spinning rate.

Jorge Garcia, for example, was brought to the U.S. when he was ten years old. His record was clean. His wife and two children are citizens, and Garcia had spent some $125,000 in legal fees since 2005 trying to find a path to stay legally in the U.S. with them while living and working outside of Detroit as a landscaper.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 15, he was deported to Mexico.

Then there’s the even more recent story of Jesus Berrones, a married father of five in Arizona, who was brought to the country when he was one. Berrones’ five-year-old son is battling leukemia, and his wife is pregnant. He is his family’s primary source of income.

ICE decided on Thursday to deport him. Berrones is currently holed up at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix, trying to buy time, hoping for a miracle.

Miguel Perez Jr. came to the U.S. when he was eight years old, has a green card, and two children who are American citizens. He also did two tours in Afghanistan and came home with PTSD. But after seven years in jail for a felony drug conviction, he’s facing deportation.

Garcia is on a hunger strike at a detention center in Chicago, saying that he’d rather “leave this world in the country I gave my heart for” than be deported to Mexico – where he believes he’d be a target for cartels who target military veterans for enlistment.

The agency knows no bounds. Immigrants have been arrested outside of schools, in courthouses, and at their green card appointments in government offices. ICE arrests are up nearly 40 percent since Donald Trump took office, and arrests of immigrants without criminal records has more than doubled.

Who is getting arrested might not be an accident. On Friday, immigration rights group filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that ICE itself is targeting immigration activists for surveillance and deportation in an effort to “stifle dissent”.

The allegation has merit. In January, The Intercept reported that the New York City-based New Sanctuary Coalition feared it was being surveilled after two of its leaders, Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil, were detained for deportation.

Montrevil has already been deported to Haiti, while Ragbir’s presence at the center of the suit has, for the moment, delayed his deportation.

ICE has arrested a number of activists from the human rights group Migrant Justice, while a man who gave an interview to The Seattle Times about his girlfriend’s deportation was himself detained by an ICE agent to told him “My supervisor asked me to come find you because of what appeared in the newspaper.”

Democrats in Congress have drawn up several measures to reign ICE in, but Republicans with uninterested, the agency continues to run wild.

How wild? ICE’s acting director Thomas Homan, Trump’s pick for the permanent job, wants to start arresting the elected political leaders of sanctuary cities.

“We’ve got to take these sanctuary cities on,” he told Fox News in January. “We’ve got to take them to court and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.” What is the crime? Violating an “alien-smuggling statute.”

In that same interview, responding to a question about California’s new law making it the first sanctuary state, the acting director said “The state of California better hold on tight. More citizens are going to die because of these policies.”

Homan is either a fascist, unhinged, or both. But ICE’s problem isn’t a few bad apples, just as a few bad apples weren’t the problem in police departments in Ferguson, Oakland, or Baltimore. Institutionally, ICE is poison. It’s also, unlike police departments, completely unnecessary.

ICE has only been around for fifteen years. For much of the 1900s, immigration issues were handled at the federal level primarily by the United States Customs Service (USCS) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) within the Department of Justice.

But in the dark, dystopian aftermath of 9/11, the Homeland Security Act established three new immigration agencies – ICE included – and placed them all not in the DOJ, but in the brand-new Department of Homeland Security.

With that, immigration, legal or not, was criminalized. Homeland Security’s first immigration enforcement plan included the goal of establishing a “100% rate of removal for all removable aliens.”

Bad writing aside, that’s what ICE is made of. Its endgame is deporting everyone it can. In the last fifteen years, the budget for immigration enforcement has nearly quadrupled while the daily population of detained immigrations is eight times what it was in 1994.

This is the fault of both Republicans and Democrats. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, set the table for a militarized immigration enforcement system. Barack Obama, for all the good he tried to do on immigration, allowed ICE to continue to strengthen its enforcement apparatus.

Now, in Trump, we have a president who wants to see ICE function at its full raiding, surveilling, destructive potential.

ICE never should have been created. There is absolutely no reason why immigration should be under the purview of a department that aims “to secure the nation from the many threats we face.”

In fact, ICE is the threat. It ignores due process and debases sacred spaces, it rips apart families and communities, and it destabilizes the country in just the way that the country’s actual enemies would like to see us destabilized.

In the last year and change, there has been much hope placed in the idea that our government institutions are strong enough to stop or subvert any attempt by this administration to push towards totalitarianism.

ICE, along with the rest of the post 9/11 security state, is the antonym to that theory. The context within which ICE was created, as well as the work that it does, made it extraordinarily vulnerable to plunge into anti-democratic behavior at the direction of a racist demagogue like Trump.

It should be disbanded at the first opportunity. Immigration should be returned to the DOJ’s jurisdiction, and immigrants treated with humanity. This current campaign of terror cannot be abided.

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