Abolishing ICE Is Serious Policy

Centrists and conservatives have typed countless pixels throwing hippie-punching haymakers at activists and candidates in the “Abolish ICE” movement. Sean McElwee, arguably the most prominent and consistent advocate for the position, has penned several serious and well argued pieces at The Nation and even at the New York Times on the subject, and  progressive candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon have come on board. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate challenger Kevin De Leon even hosted an “Abolish ICE Cream Social” at the California Democratic Party executive board meeting that resulted in his endorsement over the longtime incumbent, who notably has refused to adopt the same stance.

The pushback from both the right wing and the center has been intense. Bill Scher, a reliably anti-progressive center-left pundit, argued that Abolish ICE was unserious because there was ostensibly no plan to replace the agency. Fox News has claimed the position is tantamount to open borders and total chaos.

But while opinions differ on exactly how to go about it, the reality is that ICE does not need to be replaced. ICE only came into being in 2003 as a consolidation of the tasks already being performed by other agencies, and its original purpose was to do a better job catching terrorists like the 9/11 attackers–not innocent grandmothers who lacked legal papers.

But the mission and purpose of ICE has been warped and perverted over the years. It was used to carry out a record number of deportations under President Obama (a dark stain on his legacy in an effort to prove border security bona fides in exchange for immigration reform, and proof that no amount of pandering to Republican priorities will ever achieve reasonable compromise with them.) But at least under Obama the agency was directed to only target those with criminal records. Under Trump ICE has been loosed on anyone and everyone without proper documents for purely malevolent and racist reasons.

The consequences have been a travesty of abuse and inhumanity, like this story yesterday of a man arrested and detained while driving his pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth, forcing her to finish the drive on her own. The father had no criminal record [Update: ICE is now claiming today that the man has a warrant for his arrest in Mexico. It is not yet clear if the agents knew this when he was detained.]

Simply put, there is no need for this agency to exist. Its useful functions for crime prevention and human trafficking can be handled by other departments. Customs and Border Patrol can handle the border itself. The FBI and Homeland Security can handle human trafficking and terrorism. Local police departments can handle street crime as they have always done–and it’s worth remembering that immigrants have lower crime rates per capita than citizens do.

The unaccountable “papers please” Trumpist gangs searching the country for vulnerable innocents to send away should simply be disbanded. With the well-known racial animus underpinning Stephen Miller and Donald Trump, It’s as obvious as day that the purpose of ICE isn’t to make the country safer at this point. Its purpose to make America white again by throwing out as many people of color as the federal government can legally get away with.

Abolishing ICE is simply about denying them that power and concentrating the efforts of law enforcement on real criminals, instead. That’s a deadly serious, highly realistic and badly needed policy. Those who argue otherwise are simply masking racism and political cowardice with an air of supercilious wonkery.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.