Beyond reform: Abolish ICE


Photo via Flickr by Fibonacci Blue

Several thousand people gathered in Minneapolis this June to call for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after policies enacted by the Trump administration separated migrant children from their parents.

By Jason Henriquez, For The Pitt News

In a country increasingly concerned with government overreach and misallocated taxpayer dollars, one particular government agency has received and will continue to receive expanded powers and billions of dollars in funding annually. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently obtained a $200 million boost in funding — $10 million of which came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency directly before Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast.

The purpose of this agency is not border security, a function solely delegated to Customs and Border Protection. ICE, an organization predicated on deporting people already inside the country, is the flagship of government overreach. It has the ability to detain individuals suspected of illegal immigration indefinitely, and it has done so before. It can also deport naturalized citizens without the slightest respect for their rights. The implications of these capabilities are broad and dystopian. Both conservatives and liberals can see this agency for what it is — an extension of big government.

Giving the power to deport naturalized citizens to an undemocratic organization — one that is dominated by the executive branch and whose officials aren’t elected — opens the door to a multitude of injustices. Citizens should not have to worry about facing deportation because of their ethnicity or color of skin, but that is the reality that many Americans are facing if a despotic regime is elected to the White House. There is the possibility that the judiciary can protect against executive dominion by not wrongfully prosecuting citizens, but the current president has even suggested deporting people without trial. The best hope of preserving the rights of everyone is to dissolve this corrupt organization.

The movement to #AbolishICE first gained steam on social media because of the family separation crisis earlier this year that sparked concern for the emotional trauma inflicted on children — largely from Central American migrant families — detained in immigration camps. It went on to become a battle cry for victims of deportation of all ages.

#AbolishICE has skyrocketed in popularity — in a July poll by Pew Research Center, 47 percent of Americans had a negative view of the agency, compared to the 70 percent approval rating of Trump’s immigration policies in 2017. In a matter of months, the number of congresspeople who have announced their support for terminating the organization has increased from zero to nine, including two senators and seven representatives.

The movement itself is not entirely groundbreaking. It is predated by the movement for sanctuary campuses and cities across the country in 2016, which fought for lack of cooperation with ICE in certain facilities, counties and municipalities across the country. While students at Pitt have advocated for the University to become a sanctuary campus, it has yet to take this step, unlike multiple other campuses and cities. But lack of cooperation with federal authorities will not be enough.

The most effective way to protect both undocumented and documented immigrants — who as a whole overwhelmingly exhibit lower levels of criminality than citizens — from being forced out of the only home many have ever known is to eradicate the organization that is attacking them.

Proponents of ICE are correct in the sense that it serves important purposes. The organization has multiple duties beyond deportation. The task of targeting human rights violations and trafficking can be managed more efficiently through separate organizations. These functions not related to deportation of men, women and children must be carried out competently and effectively by institutions that are better equipped to handle them, such as the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center.

ICE is not deeply rooted in the annals of U.S. history. In actuality, it has only existed since 2003 and was passed in the same epoch as the USA Patriot Act, which increased federal surveillance upon citizens after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Both the agency and the Patriot Act were overreactions to terrorism that have eroded individual liberties. Now that our country is not in a state of panic, it is time to advance from the darkness. The next generation must be steadfast in decrying the autocratic and immoral nature of ICE.

Although it has certainly been abused by President Trump, ICE was utilized to great negative effect by former President Barack Obama. In fact, the Obama administration oversaw more reported deportations than the sum of all the presidents of the 20th century. No leader can be trusted with the ability to permanently revoke citizenship or bar an innocent civilian from entering a country. These powers are corruptive and representative of an authoritarian government.

Our government should not dedicate billions of dollars each year to attempt to remove every undocumented person in the country. This plan is clearly ineffective because even after 15 years of nonstop effort, there are still millions of undocumented migrants here. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on a fool’s errand, we should do everything in our power to make sure that the undocumented people already in the U.S. can contribute to society and have basic human rights.

The presence of undocumented laborers disadvantages legal workers by endowing employers with a workforce that can be paid below the minimum wage. The only solution to this problem is to provide a pathway to citizenship to migrants who arrive illegally in the country so that businesses cannot exploit cheap labor. As long as ICE continues to exist, no such pathway will be possible and corporations will still hire undocumented laborers.

The injustices of ICE will continue into perpetuity — and potentially worsen — if we do not act soon. The expansion of executive powers to deport well-established and naturalized people may grow to the deportation of American-born citizens. This agency is an affront to our republic that threatens complete despotism if not checked quickly and effectively.

The first step toward a more vibrant democracy is repealing this artifact of a forgotten era. In the name of justice, we must abolish ICE.