Outrage against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its agents is nothing new within pro-immigrant circles. Neither are the calls to do away with the 15-year-old agency, which continues to use intimidation and force to go after immigrants, green-card holders and, in some cases, United States citizens. What is new is the intensity of said outrage and the growing number of people turning up the volume on the call for ICE to be dissolved.
ICE ― the “unshackled” Department of Homeland Security agency responsible for the brutal enforcement of federal immigration law ― has gone from being just another office within the federal government to the public’s favorite punching bag in recent months. However, the calls to “abolish ICE” lack a solid consensus on what should or would happen if the federal agency were to actually be scrapped. We’ve seen no concrete policy proposals for what immigration enforcement should or would really look like in a post-ICE world.
This isn’t a bad thing, at least at first glance, because many people calling for the abolishment of ICE are fresh and welcome faces to the immigrant rights movement. But the belief that a nation currently led by politicians who are unable to agree on even the most basic immigration principles ― like how to protect Dreamers from deportation ― could simply abolish a national law enforcement agency without consequence would be misguided if not short-sighted.
The calls to 'abolish ICE' lack a solid consensus on what should or would happen if the federal agency were to actually be scrapped.
Acknowledging that ICE has become a corrupt and unchecked agency composed of people who would rather act like cowboys than law enforcement professionals is a start. However, we can’t create a sequel to ICE until we have a clear idea of what we, the American people, are for ― not just against ― when it comes to immigration. We must demand that our elected leaders present an immigration reform package that combines a path to citizenship, a flexible and improved legal immigration system and targeted enforcement that replaces ICE’s heavy-handed terror.
Dismantling ICE without a solid replacement strategy will likely lead to the agency’s current role ― including the arrest, detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants ― simply getting rolled over to another Department of Homeland Security agency or local police force. That is a non-starter for immigration advocates, and it should be a non-starter for every American citizen.
Simply put, abolishing ICE will require a significant amount of political capital, credibility and resistance to what Republicans deem a call for open borders.
Right now, Democrats in Congress are filing legislation that would sunset ICE, as the brand ”has been so damaged by the president that it can no longer accomplish its original mission.” But this legislation would also call for the formation of a commission that would look into ”abuses for which ICE is wholly or partially responsible” and then make recommendations to forge a replacement.
We can’t create a sequel to ICE until we have a clear idea of what we, the American people, are for ― not just against ― when it comes to immigration.
The bottom line is ICE’s current iteration doesn’t work ― and has not worked since its inception. President George W. Bush, who oversaw the creation of the agency, let ICE agents run rampant, to the point where it violated the rights of U.S. citizens. Under Barack Obama, ICE became a fine-tuned machine with a cold grip that had little regard for the life or well-being of immigrants. Now, under Donald Trump, we have a reckless group of federal officials who fancy themselves as thugs with limitless powers to do as they please ― because ultimately, they have the support of a racist president.
In our quest as a nation to reimagine and retool immigration enforcement at the federal level, we must acknowledge that the statutory regime under which our immigration policy is currently carried out is outdated and in grave need of an update.
Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys are already hoping that their critics will try to wield the call to abolish ICE as a hollow weapon that will divide liberals and Democrats ahead of midterm elections. In fact, the Trump apparatus is already campaigning off of the calls to abolish ICE, saying that Democrats are an “open borders mob” that does not want Americans to defend our border.
If we are to abolish ICE, then we must use the public’s newfound awareness and outrage at the agency’s appalling abuses to tackle how this country handles immigration enforcement going forward. Getting rid of ICE doesn’t do America any good if we don’t reform the rest of our outdated immigration laws and choose human decency over draconian law enforcement.
Juan Escalante is an immigrant advocate and online strategist who has been fighting for the Dream Act and pro-immigration policies at all levels of government for the past 10 years.