The Abolish ICE movement has split the Democratic Party. Some say the agency, formally the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Homeland Security Department, has lost all credibility for its involvement in separating immigrant families. Others say it’s the policy that is problematic, not the federal workers who carried it out.
Republicans, meanwhile, see it as a boon for their election prospects. President Donald Trump has cited it in fundraising appeals.
Cesar Vargas of the Dream Action Coalition, an activist group, explained the case for abolishing ICE on the CQ on Congress podcast last month. Here’s an edited transcript:
Q. Why are people talking about abolishing ICE?
A. First, it’s simply a duplication of government bureaucracy. It’s another representation of big government and unnecessary government. We have a lot of agencies that deal already with investigating criminal organizations, that are responsible for investigating transnational gangs, violence and cybercrimes. And the second front is what ICE has been doing since its inception.
Regardless of whether it was controlled by a Democrat or Republican president, we still saw it targeting immigrant communities based on simply race, religion and ethnicity and not necessarily on the national security of our country. ICE’s own numbers show that a majority of people detained were not the “bad hombres,” as Donald Trump puts it, but simply parents, grandparents, soldiers, veterans, who have been caught in this dragnet.
Q. Recently the Migration Policy Institute put out a report about ICE, and they said that 69 percent of ICE arrests, for the purpose of deportation, are people coming out of prison after serving sentences for other crimes. This is in keeping with interior immigration enforcement going back many years. Are you proposing to end the deportation of immigrants who’ve committed crimes?
A. Absolutely not, when it comes to detaining and incarcerating and processing the deportation of people who’ve committed violent crimes. No one is disputing that.
But let’s talk about the criminal offenses. Most of those crimes are things like using a fake Social Security number or getting in a fight or someone didn’t have money to pay the bus ticket.
Q. The other piece of ICE’s work is policing workplaces. There’s been an increase there. What do you think about that sort of enforcement?
A. This is where the priorities are terribly misguided. It’s always on the workers. You are targeting people who are working to provide for their families. The majority, if not all of them, don’t have any criminal record. Whereas for the employers they say, “We are going to give you a fine and that’s it.”
Q. Most of the employees of ICE are federal workers. What should we do with them?
A. Those individuals could help in the ongoing efforts at criminal investigations, that the FBI does, that the CIA does, that the ATF does. We want people to commit to their service to their country to ensure we are fighting crimes.
I don’t think the country does a good job when we use our men and women in service to go to a school to detain and deport a mother who is just there to pick up her child.
Q. Republicans believe the Abolish ICE movement is going to help them in the election. How do you see the politics?
A. There is no question the politics are in play there, but Democrats have really been weak on their efforts in messaging.
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