What do you do with a government agency that seems to have forgotten the basic humanity of the people it’s been assigned to chase down and deport? Can it be changed? Reformed? Or does it need to be burned to the ground instead?
I’ve written at least twice before that both ICE and the Border Patrol are overdue for a reckoning. But lately activists and even some Democratic politicians, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling for ICE to be abolished altogether. Ocasio-Cortez took down a longtime Democratic incumbent by running on the issue, so there’s clearly something there, and soon after she won, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a likely 2020 contender, agreed that ICE had become a “deportation force” and needed to be “reimagined.”
Here in Connecticut several Democratic lawmakers, such as Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, and Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford, have signed a statement calling for the end of ICE. It’s no coincidence that these lawmakers represent urban areas with high immigrant populations.
Not that there’s any chance of ICE being abolished, especially now. It’s just not realistic to think the Republicans would ever go for it, and the idea isn’t too popular with the American people as a whole. We should focus on other things, shouldn’t we? Things we can actually do?
And even if we could toss ICE out with the stinking, rotting garbage, we should be careful, yeah? I’m sure abolishing ICE would have all kinds of unintended consequences, and it would be very difficult to reorganize—
Ugh. Let me take a deep breath here.
You know what? Forget what I just said. Writing those sentences made me absolutely sick. ICE, as it is right now, has no place in this country, and needs to go.
ICE gives me the creeps. Gillibrand is right, they’ve become a deportation force, and most of what the agency seems to do now is strike terror into the hearts of immigrants — both documented and undocumented. Sure, they investigate, but we have other parts of the government that do investigating and crime-fighting very well without being over-the-top bullies and thugs. The FBI, for instance, does this very well, and actually seems to operate with some restraint.
ICE, on the other hand, is an agency that separates children from families, grabs fathers taking their children to school, and abuses detainees. ICE, and the private contractors and others who work with them, pick on the vulnerable. LGBT migrants, for example, face mockery and abuse by ICE guards.
Too many ICE agents don’t see the people in their custody as human beings. That’s how pregnant women could be denied medical care and shackled, leading to miscarriages. That’s how nine detainees could be chained up in the back of a hot van for 24 hours as they were being transported from one prison to another.
And yes, that’s how some immigrants have died — because of ICE neglect in their facilities.
It’s impossible to see any of this going on without being revolted. But we can’t ignore the larger pattern, either. ICE and the Border Patrol are two of the worst examples of law enforcement abusing its power in this country, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. Police departments need house-cleaning and reform, and I have to believe that can happen. But ICE?
ICE began as a mean little agency under Bush, and became a terror under Obama. Now it’s a rampaging monster. There is no hope of salvaging this agency.
It’s not the politically prudent thing to do, demanding that ICE be shut down. It makes Democrats who embrace it seem like fringe leftists, making them a wide open target for Republicans in a year when Democrats need every single win they can get.
But at some point, don’t we have to stand our moral ground?
We’ve faced so many moral and civic tests in this country over the past few years, and we’ve failed so many of them. We can’t fail this one, too.
Should we abolish ICE? Yes. That’s the only choice that will keep everyone who comes to this country safe, and let the rest of us sleep at night.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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