Updated: Oct 19, 2021
ICE, formally the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was established on March 1, 2003, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. ICE’s role is to “protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety.” Recently, however, the progressive movement #AbolishICE has been gaining national attention. At the same time, President Donald Trump fully supports ICE, claiming it’s the only thing keeping the country from “gang infestations.”
The movement is heavily supported by Democrats in Congress. One of ICE’s strongest opposers is Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris. “I think there’s no question that we’ve got to critically re-examine ICE and its role and the way that it is being administered and the work it is doing,” Harris told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt.
Why do Democrats and many American citizens want to get rid of this government agency? There are three main reasons for the aggression of the #AbolishICE movement: continuous human rights violations made by ICE, purposeless use of budget by the agency, and overall ineffectiveness of the agency.
ICE Has Made Human Rights Violations
In June of 2018, NPR reported that more than 2,300 children have been separated from their families at the Southern U.S. border in less than a month. The president and other top White House officials claim that unstated specific court rulings are the cause of the unforeseen consequence of separated families. However, The Washington Post states that immigrant family separation seemed to start happening in April 2018, following the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. Under the zero-tolerance policy, ICE can detain all adult aliens for crossing the border illegally, with no exception for asylum-seekers or those with minors.
An asylum-seeker is a person arriving at a country’s border, fitting the international law “definition” of a refugee. As signatory to the 1967 Protocol, and through U.S. immigration law, the U.S. has legal obligations to provide protection to those who qualify as refugees. This shows that the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy is denying and detaining those in need of a foreign country’s protection.
Most of the 40,000 detainees in custody are refugees seeking asylum. However, they are separated from their loved ones and are held in crowded, unsanitary conditions, many of them don’t have a previous criminal record. Immigration authorities detained more than 76,000 minors in the 2019 fiscal year, a 52% increase from 2018. The LA Times reported that six children died in ICE detainment centers in 2019. Most of the children died after becoming ill from the Border Patrol’s crowded temporary holding areas.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has gotten even worse. Many detainees have raised concerns over their inability to social distance and the lack of sanitation in the centers. However, rather than addressing these issues, ICE has responded by punishing them and pepper-spraying detainees asking for safer conditions.
There are currently more than 3,700 people who are or were in ICE detainment centers that tested positive for COVID-19 since February 2020. On April 29, two officers at Richwood Correctional Center died of COVID-19 after the center barred them from wearing face masks. As of April 30, 60% of ICE detainees who have been tested, have tested positive for the virus. Even with the high possibility of detainees having the virus, only 1.38% got tested. Acting ICE Director Matthew T. Albence confirmed that ICE will not release any detainees despite the COVID-19 concerns. He stated that releasing detainees would give the impression that his administration is “not enforcing our immigration laws.”
The Agency Has Misused Its Budget
Throughout the years, ICE has had many issues of mismanagement of budget, adding to the call of the removal of the agency. In August 2019, the Trump administration transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from the disaster relief fund to boost U.S.-Mexico border enforcement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president’s actions were “stunningly reckless [and picked] the pockets of disaster relief funding in order to fund an appalling, inhumane family incarceration plan.” The transfer added $271 million to an agency that already has an annual budget of $8 billion.
Furthermore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported multiple cases of ICE employees illegally using government money for personal gain. One of these incidents was a nine-count indictment, misusing more than $100,000 per count.
Finally, in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminated the Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which provided case management services to immigrants as an alternative to detention. “DHS offered no explanation upon the termination of this program, despite the fact that the program achieved a 99% compliance rate with ICE and immigration court requirements and cost $38 per family per day – in comparison to the average cost per person per day of $208 in detention facilities,” Senator Harris (D-CA) said.
Due to recent reports of ICE’s budget misuse, immigration advocates say that the U.S. must divert funding from ICE raids to combat “white nationalist racism.” The call comes from Alianza Americas, a network of 50 immigrant-led organizations representing more than 150,000 families across the U.S. The organization calls ICE’s operation an act of terror committed against working families. “An operation by ICE led to the arrest of 680 workers in food-processing plants in Mississippi. A few hours later, disturbing pictures of children in tears after being separated from their parents led to public outrage,” Alianza Americas said on their website.
ICE Has Been Accused of Not Doing Its Job Correctly
Contrary to Trump’s promise to deport “millions of illegal aliens” in June of 2019, only 35 people were arrested as part of an ICE operation targeting families with court order removals. Of those arrests, almost half were collateral arrests. Days before Acting Director Albence released these numbers to the public, Trump told reporters that, “The ICE raids were very successful—people came into our country illegally.”
In addition to the lack of arrests, ICE has been accused of having secrecy-driven behavior, failing to adequately assess the condition of detained immigrants, and not addressing or identifying violations. A released investigation by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) reports that there are many inconsistencies within and between inspection reports for individual facilities and between Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) inspections, proving a lack of organized communication not only between sub agencies but also with the public.
The #AbolishICE movement claims that the agency was created out of fear in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, characterizing a force created to address Xenophobia and Islamophobia. However, opposers of the movement claim the removal/defunding of the organization would create complete chaos and panic in the U.S. Both arguments, believe that simply removing ICE as an agency will not stop the criminalization of immigrants, legal and illegal.
Through Teen Lenses: Do you think ICE should be abolished? If so, what are possible alternatives for the organization?
“I definitely think ICE needs to be abolished. It’s just so corrupt as is that I think there needs to be a total reboot of how we handle situations regarding undocumented immigrants. I think that there needs to be an organization that, instead of viewing all undocumented immigrants as criminals that need to go back to where they came from, views them as people who just need help becoming documented citizens.” Liliana Johnson, 15, Rising Sophomore at South Lakes High School, Ashburn, Virginia
“The ice should not be completely abolished, however it should be refined. For example, a new office could be created to help illegal immigrants to obtain the legal paperwork needed to live in the U.S.” Anonymous, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Chantilly, Virginia
“I personally feel that I do not know enough about this subject to provide a fair and objective response. While I am aware that ICE has done awful things, I’m not sure if abolishing ICE would solve all of the problems or if that would just cause other issues. As I said, I don’t know enough about this topic, but I do know that ICE has done some terrible things and actions do need to be taken towards helping stop such terrible things from happening. I’m just not sure what these specific actions should be.” Madhuri Sosale, 15, Rising Sophomore at Briar Woods High School, Ashburn, Virginia
“When I look at both sides of the argument, I consider the fact that actions of ICE have been considered to be heinous, but that does not hide the fact that this agency provides more than 20,000 jobs and is worth more than 6 billion dollars, which is more than just beneficial to the government. President Trump has misused ICE repeatedly, which has drawn national attention to the abolishment of ICE, so don’t ban the organization, change the leadership.” Anonymous, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Mclean, Virginia