The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has been loathsome ever since it was created in 2003 out of the ashes of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. That is to be expected; an organization formed specifically to round up people and deport them is never going to be admirable.
But in the past, ICE’s misdeeds seemed to happen mostly out of sight. Even as President Obama cemented his legacy as deporter-in-chief, his support of some kind of immigration reform, his implementation of the DACA program, and—perhaps most importantly—the broad pass he got from a large chunk of his base kept his immigration record from tarnishing his image too much.
We should have been paying more attention. Obama passed a well-oiled apparatus of injustice onto Donald Trump. And under Trump, ICE is running wild. Anybody with even the slightest conscience should be able to see that it is rotten to the core. It is tearing communities apart. It is destroying lives with obvious glee. It is little more than a blunt instrument of racist terror.
Don’t take my word for it. Thomas Homan, the head of ICE, has all but said it himself. In June, he told a congressional committee:
[I]f you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.
In other words: If you have the audacity to try and exist in the United States without the right piece of paper, ICE wants you to live every single waking moment of your life in fear. It even wants your neighbors to snitch on you, as Splinter recently reported.
Watch Homan in any of his public appearances and you can see how excited he is by all of this. He is a vital part of an effort by a white supremacist government to remove an unwanted segment of the population from the United States, and he is having the time of his life.
ICE is responsible for a series of monstrous moral crimes.
So are his troops. The numbers are staggering. There has been a 43% increase in immigration arrests in the Trump administration’s first year. Forty-one thousand people were arrested in just a single 100-day period—something ICE proudly touts on its propagandistic website. The number of people arrested with no criminal record went up by 179%. So many people have been detained that deportations have actually slowed down because the system can’t cope. As a result, ICE is now looking to open new private prisons.
But, of course, keeping the system “functioning” is somewhat beside the point. This is not about catching criminals, or proper law enforcement. This is about racist state violence against vulnerable communities.
To say that ICE acts indiscriminately is an understatement. It doesn’t matter if you have no criminal record, if you care for a child with severe disabilities, if you’re getting your green card, if you’re pregnant, if your labor is vital to the local economy, if you’re in a hospital or a courthouse, if you’re a kid going to your prom, if there’s a hurricane coming, if you’re a DACA recipient, even if ICE knows you could be killed if you get deported. ICE doesn’t care. The agency—and the entire sick enterprise it represents, from Trump on down—sees immigrants as unworthy of dignity or human rights. It sees them as filth to be cleansed from the American body. And if you are so unlucky as to be one of the undesirables, ICE wants you gone.
It is clear what has to be done. ICE must be abolished, immediately. Border Patrol—recently in the news for detaining a little girl with cerebral palsy the second she got out of surgery—should be abolished, too. This system is too morally tainted to continue in anything that resembles its current form. It is irredeemable.
In a just world, ICE’s abolition would be accompanied by a program of amnesty for all undocumented immigrants and a promise that everyone who comes to this country can immediately begin a path to legal status. This is not a radical solution. Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to nearly 3 million undocumented people in 1986, and paths to citizenship have been a part of every recent immigration reform plan. But even without broader reform, ICE cannot be allowed to exist anymore.
What’s more, we need to make its abolition a key demand for any of our erstwhile political leaders. Will Bernie Sanders commit to abolishing ICE? Will Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren? If they won’t, then what radical action are they going to take to end the climate of fear that immigrants are facing? This question needs to move to the heart of the conversation headed into the 2018 and 2020 elections.
If this all seems drastic—well, it is, because we’re in an emergency. ICE is responsible for a series of monstrous moral crimes. It is little better than the state-backed secret police and hit squads that have terrorized countries all over the world. We can’t sit around hoping that someone decent eventually sits at the controls of that kind of sordid machine. It needs to be destroyed.