Recent calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are simply preposterous! Media reports that ICE agents want to dismantle the agency are equally ridiculous.
Conservative and liberals must abandon the language of divisive politics
Roughly 9 months after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, President George W. Bush proposed creation of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE was established as one of the agencies with border security responsibility. Personnel from the U. S. Customs Service at the Department of Treasury and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in the Department of Justice eventually became the heart of the new national security agency.
ICE became operational on March 1, 2003 with a principal mission as the enforcement arm of the new cabinet-level department. In many ways, ICE is a re-branding of the Justice Department’s flailing INS. America, after all, needs an entity responsible for enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.
Today, that enforcement arm consists of two independent divisions with uniquely different missions – Enforcement and Removal Operation (ERO) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). ERO is the division primarily responsible for civil enforcement of immigration laws and the detention and removal of foreign nationals. The workforce in this division migrated into ICE from the former INS where it was largely responsible for enforcing the nation’s immigration laws through identifying, apprehending, detaining and removing immigrants who met the criteria for removal from the United States. The immigration enforcement agents assigned to this division of ICE are the “ICE agents” we hear so much about in the media.
The reality is that abolishing ICE is not a serious policy proposal; it’s about as serious as the claim that Mexico’s ‘gonna pay for the wall’ – former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson
HSI, on the other hand, has become the nation’s 2nd largest federal investigative agency. HSI is laser focused on meeting the mandates of President Trump’s Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking (EO 13773). While there are “agents” in HSI, they’re not the ICE agents involved in separating juvenile children from their parents. These career professionals conduct long-term, complex investigations involving cross-border crimes such as the smuggling of dangerous drugs and other contraband, the theft of intellectual property, child pornography, illegal export of critical technology, money laundering and human trafficking.
Too often the language we use to communicate our displeasure with various policies fails to serve the greater good.
Given these facts, is defunding or abolishing ICE a reasonable remedy for what ails the agency? Jeh Johnson, former DHS Secretary, has condemned “Abolish ICE” as no more than a good rallying cry and definitely not an answer to the nation’s immigration woes. How would the nation oversee migration to the U.S.? Furthermore, because ICE is a law enforcement agency, abolishing it without a viable replacement compromises public safety.
A WAY FORWARD
The most logical first step in ICE’s future has been proposed by a group of HSI executives. Their position, contrary to most media accounts, does not include abolishing the agency. In a letter to DHS Secretary Nielsen, they proposed reform rather than abolishing ICE. Due to the vastly different missions of the two ICE divisions, those executives recommended realignment of HSI as an independent DHS agency as a beginning to the reform needed.
That realignment has nothing to do with the zero tolerance immigration policy or the inhumane separation and detention of minor children from their parents arrested under the policy. It is a reform that is long overdue. Because of its mission, HSI was never a part of then-candidate Trump’s 2015 promise of a “deportation force” to address the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. If anything, HSI’s commitment to developing and exploiting international sources and methods makes it the nation’s transnational investigative agency and should be structured and funded as such.
I can’t say it often enough or loud enough. Too often the language we use to communicate our displeasure with various policies fails to serve the greater good. I agree with Secretary Johnson – we should hold those in charge of these government departments and agencies responsible for developing and implementing immigration policies that meet the nation’s needs or get rid of those leaders.
America simply cannot afford rhetoric about abolishing ICE. Those who have adopted this rhetoric in an effort to survive mid-term elections will find that they’re merely weaponizing their opponents. I believe that some of the most vocal actually know little about ICE or its responsibilities.
ICE is a law enforcement agency; abolishing it without a viable replacement compromises public safety.
A realistic solution begins with a balanced, thoughtful approach to aligning personnel with mission. Secretary Nielsen has a group of executives poised to spearhead that effort. Secretary Nielsen should also look to ERO executives to take the lead in efforts to fine tune that division’s day-to-day implementation of policy (possibly beginning with returning discretion to the front lines).
Then the country must do more than “treat the symptoms of immigration”. To do that the United States must begin to look seriously at taking steps to assist Central American governments in eliminating the conditions that precipitate the massive migrations north. That includes helping many of the countries in the region that neighbor Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (all countries that are home to the masses escaping violence and persecution) develop systems to assist their neighbors.
And finally, both conservative and liberals must abandon the language of divisive politics. Immigration is, and always has been, about people not politics. When a nation reduces its treatment of people as mere pawns in political warfare nothing of value is achieved. We miss opportunities to make our country better and to improve the lives of people in dire need of our help.