by Raul Reyes, Opinion columnist
The idea of abolishing ICE is not radical or without merit. It’s harming immigrant communities and hampering investigations, and we don’t need it.
In Los Angeles on June 26, 2018.
(Photo: Mike Nelson/epa-EFE)
The movement is growing. On Saturday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for replacing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The president’s deeply immoral actions have made it obvious we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works,” the Massachusetts Democrat said at a rally in Boston. Rep. Marc Pocan, D-Wis., said he plans to introduce a bill to abolish ICE. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also support abolishing ICE.
ICE’s mission includes immigration enforcement, investigating trafficking and smuggling and preventing terrorism. However, it has become an agency that harms Latino and immigrant communities. There are credible allegations of ICE violating human, constitutional and civil rights on a scale that would never be tolerated at any other government agency. It is time for this agency to be reformed or abolished.
ICE raids are sweeping up citizens
One problem with ICE is that its enforcement activities are negatively affecting the agency’s other functions. In June, a majority of the special agents in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigative Division signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, saying they wanted to split off from ICE. They said President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown hurts morale and makes it harder for them to conduct investigations into drug smuggling and organized crime.
ICE’s enforcement activities are themselves problematic, in part because it is not just the undocumented who are being swept up in their raids. Since 2012, ICE has released nearly 1,500 U.S. citizens who were wrongfully detained. One American man was held in custody by ICE for 1,273 days, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents repeatedly target U.S. citizens for deportation by mistake, making wrongful arrests based on incomplete government records, bad data and lax investigations,” the newspaper found. ICE’s practice of “collateral arrests” — the arrest of anyone they encounter who is here without authorization — also raises concerns about racial profiling and violations of due process.
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ICE’s military-style raids have left Latino and immigrant communities across the country feeling terrorized. This climate of fear means immigrants are less likely to come forward as witnesses or victims of crime. Many domestic violence victims are steering clear of the police and the courts because they fear deportation.
In January 2017, Trump ended the Obama-era practice of focusing immigration enforcement on serious criminals and national security threats. Now Trump’s campaign promise of a “deportation force” has been fulfilled. Virtually anyone in this country without documentation is at risk for arrest, detention and removal. As a result, last year ICE arrested 46,000 people without criminal records, a 171 percent increase in the number of non-criminals arrested in 2016.
Yet even as ICE agents have been emboldened by Trump’s immigration policies, they are still dealing with vulnerable migrants who may not know their rights or have access to a lawyer. Coupled with the lack of transparency throughout ICE, this has resulted in unacceptable human rights violations. Consider that ICE allegedly kept 92 immigrants shackled on a plane for nearly two days in what advocates called “slave ship” conditions.
We don’t need ICE
The growing calls to abolish ICE have likely been triggered by outrage over the Trump administration’s family separations policy. Yet ICE was a problem during past administrations as well. In 2008, both The New York Times and The Washington Post wrote stories about the scores of deaths that took place in ICE detention between 2003 and 2008.
Unfortunately, ICE’s sprawling detention system has not improved since then. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found “significant issues” in the treatment of ICE detainees. These issues included delayed medical care, verbal abuse of detainees, poor facility conditions and possible misuse of solitary confinement. The Intercept has reported on what it termed a “staggering pattern” of sexual abuse that took allegedly place while detainees were in ICE custody.
No doubt, the idea of abolishing ICE is anathema to some conservatives who fear that will lead to open borders. But ICE is not in charge of border security; that is the job of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And no one is calling for a halt to immigration enforcement. Either ICE needs to do it in a more humane way with greater oversight, or the agency should be dismantled and its functions reassigned to other agencies. ICE is only 15 years old; it was created in 2003 as a successor to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The country did without ICE for many years, and it can do without ICE now.
The idea of abolishing ICE is neither radical nor without merit. There is a strong case to be made for abolishing this agency — or at the least, completely overhauling it.
Raul Reyes, an attorney, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @RaulAReyes
USA Today · by Raul Reyes, Opinion columnist