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Abolish ICE: the New Call to Destroy ICE’s Destructive Deportation Force

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In the last year, Donald Trump has taken the “shackles off” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allowing them to target families, separate parents from children, arrest immigrant victims at courthouses, and much more. Now, a new movement has arisen among immigration advocates and progressives to abolish ICE altogether.

ICE has been called a “rogue agency” and “moral monsters” who are rounding up “everyone”. According to ICE’s 2017 data, immigration arrests of those who hadn’t committed any crimes increased 171 percent over 2016.

ICE has also become a political enforcement agency under the Trump Administration, with acting director Thomas Homan saying that elected officials who are too friendly to immigrants should be prosecuted and vowing to specifically target immigrants in safe cities. This month, ICE’s own spokesman in San Francisco resigned in protest stating “I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts” promoted by ICE.

A number of commentators have now written about the need to abolish ICE. Here are some of their arguments.

The latest conversation around abolishing ICE appears to have been sparked by Sean McElwee, a researcher who published a column at the Nation arguing that ICE is racist and has been allowed to operate with impunity:

The central assumption of ICE in 2018 is that any undocumented immigrant is inherently a threat. In that way, ICE’s tactics are philosophically aligned with racist thinkers like Richard Spencer and the writers at the white-supremacist journal VDare. ICE’s modus operandi under Trump bears a striking resemblance to the strategy proposed by white supremacist Jared Taylor in 2015:

The key, however, would be a few well publicized raids on non-criminal illegals. Television images of Mexican families dropped over the border with no more than they could carry would be very powerful. The vast majority of illegals would quickly decide to get their affairs in order and choose their own day of departure rather than wait for ICE to choose it for them. The main thing would be to convince illegals that ICE was serious about kicking them out. Ironically, the more ICE was prepared to do, the less it would have to do.

This is a near-perfect summary of ICE under acting director Thomas Homan, who has repeatedly made clear that all undocumented residents should be afraid of his agents. “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried,” he boasted in his congressional testimony last year…

The call to abolish ICE is, above all, a demand for the Democratic Party to begin seriously resisting an unbridled white-supremacist surveillance state that it had a hand in creating. Though the party has moved left on core issues from reproductive rights to single-payer health care, it’s time for progressives to put forward a demand that deportation be taken not as the norm but rather as a disturbing indicator of authoritarianism.

White supremacy can no longer be the center of the immigration debate. Democrats have voted to fully fund ICE with limited fanfare, because in the American immigration discussion, the right-wing position is the center and the left has no voice. There has been disturbing word fatigue around “mass deportation,” and the threat of deportation is so often taken lightly that many have lost the ability to conceptualize what it means. Next to death, being stripped from your home, family, and community is the worst fate that can be inflicted on a human, as many societies practicing banishment have recognized. It’s time to rein in the greatest threat we face: an unaccountable strike force executing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

At Vox, Dara Lind followed up with McElwee, who further explained that the true intention of “abolish ICE” is to push the national conversation toward a place that recognizes how heartlessly ICE has targeted immigrants and their families, and how something needs to be done:

“We’re doing what the GOP has so successfully accomplished with its policy priorities,” McElwee says, “which is taking an institution and making it hated.” Conservatives calling for the abolition of the IRS or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau haven’t gotten either agency abolished; they have, however, gotten Republicans in government to take opportunities to weaken the agencies by cutting their funding, narrowing their mandate, and increasing scrutiny….

“This is a battleground issue,” says Greisa Martinez, advocacy director for United We Dream, the leading advocacy network among young unauthorized immigrants. “You’ve seen how unchecked ICE and CBP agents are in our communities. … It’s the responsibility of Democrats and Republicans of Congress to hold them accountable and not give them more money.”

In the Washington Post, Molly Roberts reminded us that ‘thought leaders’ have been in favor of axing government bureaucracies before — and they’ve usually been Republicans:

Take a government agency and just . . . get rid of it? Who’d ever suggest something so extreme?

Well, almost every Republican ever. President Trump’s 2019 budget blueprint proposes slashing funding for 22 agencies and programs to zero. His 2018 document targeted 19. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) want to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service. Rick Perry famously campaigned on cutting the departments of Commerce, Education and “oops” in 2011. (“Oops” turned out to be Energy, which Perry now heads.) The list goes on; in fact, Republicans have recommended the elimination of nearly every Cabinet agency at some point in time . . .

Those who want to abolish ICE have a strong argument. They’re not saying the agency is useless, and they’re not saying it’s a money-sink. They’re saying it does active harm.

At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch said that “abolishing ICE is the radical idea America needs to be talking about” and discussed the context in which ICE was founded:

In the first year of Trump’s presidency, we now know, immigration arrests and detentions spiked by a whopping one-third over 2016 — proof that the president has kept has his campaign promise for a “deportation force,” merely by “taking the shackles off” the ready and willing team he already had in place, ICE. What’s more, the biggest driver of this increase has been the seizure of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record, which has doubled under the Trump administration.

Those are the grim numbers behind a human rights catastrophe of families ripped apart and entire communities in our country now infected by fear, afraid to drive their kids to school or testify against those who actually are criminals. We’ve done a decent job in America teaching our kids about the inhumane nightmares of the recent past, to adopt a mantra, “Never again.” But the not-so-secret-police-force called ICE that operates with an almost mechanical heartlessness within our borders is what “again” looks like, here in America, in 2018.

It’s time to say, “Enough!”

America had survived, magically, for 226 years without ICE, and also with a much, much lower level of deportations, and the cruel and counter-productive program carried our by our current deportation force is exactly what critics predicted and feared when this agency was created in 2002, from the ashes of 9/11. Yet in just 16 years, a domestic deportation army has become so entrenched that proposing to abolish ICE, as some are now beginning to do, seems a radical, out-of-bounds idea. It’s not. It’s the radical idea we need to be talking about to save America’s soul before it gets too late. This conversation is a starting point for electing a new government that will rethink the way we treat undocumented immigration. And the best way to make that break is to abolish ICE…

In 2002, Bill Ong Hing, immigration attorney and now professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, tried to warn Congress that the creation of ICE was a terrible idea, that linking immigration enforcement to the rapidly expanding “war on terror” would create a “monster” agency so focused on deportation that it would scuttle hopes for sensible or humane immigration policies. Since then, he’s watched his dire warnings come true.

Author Robert Koehler, writing for Common Dreams, said ICE appears to be dehumanizing people of color born outside the United States and has the moral resonance of the Klan or Nazi-era Brownshirts.

Indeed, the time has come to abolish the presence of an official “other”: a targeted group of people who have been legally defined in dehumanizing terminology, e.g., “criminal aliens.” This is domestic war, the sole purpose of which is the maintenance of a top-down, authoritarian social order — which, of course, is what much of the Trump base would prefer….

How far will this go? When will the words of Martin Niemoller become relevant? The German Lutheran minister famously uttered, upon his release from prison at the end of World War II: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and no one was left to speak for me.”

First they came for the immigrants . .

At the libertarian-minded Reason, Shikha Dalmia said ICE is now trying to get its hands on raw intel amassed by the NSA through warrantless mass surveillance and deserves to be scrapped:

If there was ever an evil agency other than the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), it is surely ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement). Its central task is to hunt down and deport peaceful and hard working people whose main “crime” is that they can’t get the right papers from federal authorities. And in order to advance its mission, ICE is now trying to get its hands on raw intel amassed by the NSA through warrantless mass surveillance

Echoed her colleague Ryan Cooper at the Week:

In the spirit of bold policy ideas, allow me to propose a reform of ICE: Just get rid of it. There is simply no need to have an agency whose major task is rounding up and deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants…

ICE is also lousy with criminals. Its top lawyer in Seattle has been charged with stealing seven immigrants’ identities. The agency typically stuffs the people they round up into hellish dungeons where sexual assault is rampant. One asylum seeker, Laura Monterrosa, who alleges she was repeatedly raped by her jailers in an ICE facility, said she was tortured with solitary confinement over speaking up. She was told she would not be released until she recanted her testimony.

Let’s just get rid of this rotten organization.