Amid an avalanche of allegations of abuse, neglect, and outright cruelty against undocumented immigrants arrested by the authorities, it is worth analyzing the new refrain of various activists: that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) be eliminated.
First let’s look at the history and structure of ICE. This agency, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was created by the George W. Bush administration in March 2003 as a successor to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The main reason that ICE was created was to deport undocumented immigrants through its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).
ICE does not patrol the borders; that task belongs to the Border Patrol, a unit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is a sister agency of ICE.
The third part of this is the immigration court system, which does not depend on the judicial system but on DHS, and whose
judges are actually immigration agents who serve as magistrates.
There is a long list of complaints of abuses against immigrants. ICE is accused of targeting non-criminal immigrants, using deceptive techniques to enter immigrants’ homes and arrest them, and being merciless toward victims of crime and arresting them in civil courts.
The Border Patrol has been harshly questioned for the cruel practice of separating children from their parents and locking them in cages. Social organizations collected 200 testimonies from immigrants detained at the border, including many minors, and included them in a California court case as part of a lawsuit against the Trump government.
The judicial document describes a cruel list of abuses, indifference, and poor conditions in the detention centers. Many complained of suffering extreme cold, being placed in overcrowded cells, receiving dirty waterand rotten food, being humiliated by officials, or being threatened that they would not receive medical attention.
And what can be said about the immigration court system? According to data on the TRAC reports website, between October 2016 and May 2017, of all the new cases pending in the Charlotte Immigration Court (which serves the Carolinas), 97% were people prosecuted only for violations of immigration laws, while just 3% were immigrants accused of criminal charges.
According to TRAC, it takes a true miracle to win an asylum case with judges in this court. Judges Barry Pettinato and Stuart Couch have some of the highest denial rates in the country. Pettinato denied 84.5% of petitions, while Couch denied 81.6%.
Although the call to eliminate ICE seems ideal today, it is also insufficient. We need the entire disaster of the U.S. immigration system to be reformed.
Some may say that ICE agents, Border Patrol agents, and immigration courts are simply following orders, and that is precisely the problem. Unlike other independent agencies such as the current FBI, or our judicial system, immigration agencies depend on the political whims of whatever government happens to be in power at the time. This undermines the credibility of their actions.
Up to now, many of the abuses against immigrants have led to changes thanks to two factors: the complaints of the victims and legal actions taken against the government. A third factor that will precipitate change is if you participate and vote in the next elections.