Illustration by Darin Connolly

When millions of law-abiding residents have to look over their shoulder for fear of being taken away from their families, we must question the organization instilling this terror. Predicated on protecting us, ICE does anything but. 

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is a direct product of racism and xenophobia. It’s about time the U.S. abolishes it. 

ICE hasn’t always been around. The George W. Bush administration established it in 2003 to protect national security and public safety in the aftermath of 9/11. Its creation alone established the idea that anybody coming from another country is a dangerous person. We didn’t need ICE then and we don’t need it today. 

Since 2003, ICE shifted its focus from targeting Arab and Muslim men to profiling Latinx individuals and deporting undocumented immigrants. 

Proponents claim ICE is needed because undocumented immigrants are dangerous — a falsity that puts Black and Brown bodies at risk. Support for ICE is fueled by repulsive rhetoric, including Trump’s claims that immigrants from Mexico are gang members, criminals and rapists. Right-wing Americans cling to lies like these to rationalize unnecessary deportation.  

ICE has served as a tool for presidents since Bush to hammer out dehumanizing anti-immigration policies. It’s never been an innocent agency, and Trump uses it aggressively. We can’t expect the Trump administration to change its stance, so we should take away its tool. 

ICE is divided into three offices, most well-known for its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division. The ERO is the office that most often makes headlines and focuses on the removal of undocumented immigrants. During his administration, Barack Obama shifted the ERO’s focus to convicted criminals instead of all undocumented immigrants.

Soon after his inauguration, Trump reversed Obama’s decisions. He paired hateful rhetoric with policy that targets all undocumented immigrants. Instead of going after criminals, the ERO regularly targets those whose only wrongdoing is seeking a better life. ICE claims to enforce public safety while simultaneously prying harmless people from their families.

ICE’s actions reflect that Trump, his administration and his base see all undocumented immigrants as criminals.

Though ICE was created with some authority to address criminal activity, it isn’t an armed criminal task force. It has no good reason to act like one. There are other federal agencies, like the FBI, that deal with violent crimes. 

Despite ICE’s worthlessness, the Fiscal Year 2019 President’s Budget outlines support for an expansion of ICE enforcement activities. This expansion includes a budget request of over $8.5 billion, money that could instead help fix the country’s broken immigration system. 

The United States immigration system makes it nearly impossible for certain groups to obtain citizenship. The U.S. has a cap on how many people from each country can apply for a visa. Additionally, a visa applicant’s country of origin and the category they’re applying under can dramatically impact wait times. 

The visa category of unmarried sons and daughters over 21, officially F2B, and the country of Mexico are so impacted that the wait time is infeasible. Under the current process, it could take a permanent resident’s unmarried 21-year-old child from Mexico over two decades to file an application for an immigrant visa. 

When someone is trying to flee gang violence or other life threatening situations, two decades is nowhere near realistic. Rather than blaming those seeking a safe and stable life, supporters of ICE should take a long, hard look at the American immigration system that is failing to protect asylum seekers and other immigrants. 

Democrats and activists, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, speak out in support of abolishing ICE and replacing it with a humane organization focused on safe passage. We do not need an army who thinks deportation is the solution to every case. We need a system of lawyers and social workers who help displaced individuals and families overcome the excruciating legal processes associated with immigration. 

Critics of the Abolish ICE movement assert that dismantling ICE will not solve border issues. They’re right, but abolishing ICE is a step in the right direction. Dismantling ICE will allow those who have built honest lives in the United States to continue living without having to look over their shoulders. It will force the U.S. government to confront the broken American immigration system, rather than hiding behind a wall.