The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement— more commonly referred to as simply ICE— was born in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration. ICE’s purpose is to detain and deport immigrants. In fiscal year 2017, ICE deported an estimated 226,000 people and detains an average of 40,000 people every day.
Today, ICE has over 20,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately six billion dollars—money that would be better spent if we invested in things that actually keep our communities safe, like education, health care, jobs, and infrastructure.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is not an easy process— it requires difficult examinations, a record of a long-term physical presence in the country, and more. In addition, there’s a 140,000-person cap to how many employment-based immigrants can gain citizenship each year.
When you think about how many people overcome grueling conditions to make a better life for themselves and their families by moving to the United States, the country known worldwide for its boundless opportunities, this number is dangerously small. When folks and/or refugees from foreign countries do not follow these strict procedures that lead to the path of citizenship, oftentimes out of lack of knowledge on how to achieve it, they are deemed as simply, yet incredibly inhumanely, “illegals.”
This is where ICE comes into the picture, wreaking havoc on communities of color and working-class communities by racially profiling and using scare tactics. Violently entering immigrants’ homes, shackling them and taking them into unmarked vehicles, they often take parents from young children, inflicting deep trauma that will last for years. This, however, is not to say that children aren’t taken either, and oftentimes have little clue as to what’s going on because they are too young to truly comprehend it.
The very mission of ICE is at odds with values we hold dear—like treating all people with dignity and respect. An agency that was created to tear apart communities and was founded on the belief that mass deportations make our country safer cannot be reformed.
Since its inception, ICE has routinely violated human rights. ICE agents and police officers colluding with ICE engage in racial profiling and warrantless searches, detain people without probable cause, and fabricate evidence.
Despite ICE’s long history of human rights violations, the agency has remained unaccountable to the courts, to our communities, and to Congress, which has repeatedly urged ICE to improve detention standards and address fiscal mismanagement—demands the agency has largely ignored.
Immigrants detained by ICE officers are then taken to an ICE detention center, which there are over 100 of, for an indefinite amount of time. In these establishments, men and women are often separated, but both are placed into crowded, disease-ridden conditions. They are forced to part with their belongings— prized possessions, clothing, etc.— and are given jumpsuits to wear. Oftentimes, ICE detainees are forced to part with their own names, often only being referred to by their ‘alien registration number.’
The intentional process of stripping autonomy and selfhood away from detainees goes much further. Malnourishment, extreme temperatures, a lack of hygienic products, and minimal protection and testing for COVID-19 weigh heavily on detainees. As if these weren’t bad enough, ICE detention centers run rampant with staff members who abuse their powers to the greatest degree. Sexual, physical, mental, and emotional violence are prevalent in their facilities.
Just recently, Georgia nurse Dawn Wooten came out and said that unnecessary hysterectomies were being performed on detainees from an outside doctor— she estimated that this happened to around 20 women over a 6-year period. Many of the women who had this done weren’t made fully aware as to why it was being done, either.
Abolishing ICE, not merely reforming it, is the only way to protect immigrant lives and keep families together. Though DACA— Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals— can often protect the children of immigrants, it is no way enough. Taking down an organization that supports white supremacy, racial profiling, for-profit prisons, and human mutilation is crucial in combating systemic racism. Human beings, regardless of where they’re born and where they go, are not illegal.
There are many alternatives to ICE, but we don’t need to have an exact blueprint for restructuring the federal government to know that ICE is an immoral, unaccountable, and dangerous agency that should be dismantled immediately. And we know we don’t need to replace ICE with more militarized enforcement.
Our immigration policy should be grounded in human rights and should build on things we know can create safe, healthy, communities—resources that help everyone thrive, not tearing loved ones apart.
Though working toward abolishing ICE will be a long and grueling process, and something that us civilians cannot do alone, there are several steps we can take in the immediate and near futures to help us achieve this:
1. Urge our members of Congress to defund and dismantle ICE.
Congress holds the purse-strings and can simply stop funding ICE. Or, they could pass legislation to abolish the agency.
2. While working to abolish ICE, we must also disrupt its abusive agenda wherever we can.
ICE relies on cooperation from local law enforcement to round up and detain immigrants. We can pressure cities, counties, states, and schools to stop helping ICE.
3. Support immigrants in our communities.Volunteer and support efforts to provide legal services, know your rights trainings, and offer sanctuary in places of worship. Show up to witness or disrupt when ICE tries to tear members of our communities from us. Check out No Detention Centers In Michigan for more information.
Take part in Abolish ICE actions and protests in your community.