Even Some ICE Agents Want to Abolish ICE -  Here's Why


Abolishing ICE — the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — is gaining steam as a progressive goal in the wake of growing opposition to President Donald Trump's policies and as the progressive forces within the Democratic Party are making inroads.

But in a letter sent last week to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, first reported by the Texas Observer, the Trump appointee received a request to break apart the agency from a surprising source.

ICE agents themselves.

Nineteen agents signed on to the proposal that seeks to dissolve the slipshod agency into two separate divisions: One focusing on transnational criminal investigations and the other focused on internal detaining and deporting immigrants already within the United States.

The goal of the agents isn't necessarily the same as progressive who wish to weaken the power of the federal government to invade communities and ruin lives over the commission of a misdemeanor. They write that the two distinct functions of the agency, carried out by the separate branches of Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement and Removal Operations, respectively, would be better managed under two different agencies.

One of the reasons the agents recommend this path is that they (all 19 agents are a part of the HSI branch) believe their association with ICE and the deportation raids it carries out hurts their ability to do their work.

"The disparate functions performed by ERO and HSI often cause confusion among the public, the press, other law enforcement agencies and lawmakers because the two missions are not well understood and are erroneously combined," they write. "Administrative actions have been mistaken for illegal investigations and warrantless searches. HSl's investigations have been perceived as targeting undocumented aliens, instead of the transnational criminal organizations that facilitate cross-border crimes impacting our communities and national security."

They add: "Furthermore, the perception of investigative independence is unnecessarily impacted by the political nature of civil immigration enforcement."

On the one hand, this may not look at all like the proposal to abolish ICE that many progressives, including the recently nominated New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, advocate. It would, in theory, leave the "deportation force" section of ICE intact.

But the plan may nevertheless have significant benefits.

Trump's main tactic in promoting his draconian and punitive immigration policies is to equivocate between the misdemeanor of unauthorized border crossing and the serious crimes that a tiny minority of immigrants actually carry out.

By separating the branch of ICE that actually investigates serious crimes, including gang activity and human trafficking, it would be clear that stopping crime and protecting Americans is not actually the point of ICE's detention and deportation activities. These activities serve another purpose: fighting back against demographic change in the United States. 

In fact, as Trump has shifted to prioritizing the deportation of non-criminal immigrants, he undermines his claim that what he's actually focused on is reducing crime.

Breaking apart ICE could help make those differences starker. Reducing transnational criminal activity doesn't have to be paired with aggressive policing of working communities in the United States, and politicians who favor the first mission over the second could more readily draw that distinction under the proposal. Completely defunding or at least disempowering the law enforcement arm that terrifies millions around the country would then be an easy choice.

And if Trump continues to make it clear that he cares more about harassing people of color in the United States than he does about actually making the world safer, he can be called out for that, too.

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