The History of ICE and the #AbolishIce Movement

In light of a societal push for human rights and equality, a new movement has begun to pick up speed, #AbolishIce, bringing the flaws of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to light. 

In light of a societal push for human rights and equality, a new movement has begun to pick up speed, #AbolishIce, bringing the flaws of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to light. 


First, a brief history of ICE.

The US Immigration and Customs Agency (ICE) was first founded in response to the tragedy of 9/11, when Congress and former President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ultimately; ICE. ICE was originally created to “prevent acts of terrorism by targeting the people, money, and materials that support terrorist and criminal activities,” as described by the Department of Justice in 2004. So, how did an organization initially meant to prevent terrorism become the most prolific and inhumane deportation agency in American history?

In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector began to realize the magnitude of the program and concluded in a 175-page report that there was little-to-no reason for ICE to even be created, or to be as large as it is. ICE’s sole purpose was to act out the mission given by the Department of Homeland Security, prevent terrorism, and without it, the agency alone had no purpose. The report states, “We could not find any documentation that fully explains the rationale and purpose behind ICE’s composition. One senior official offered the following explanation…ICE was established with not a focus on supporting a particular mission, but on building an institutional foundation large enough to justify a new organization.” The truth to this statement led to ICE’s mission changing drastically over the years, focusing on issues from terrorism to deportation, depending on the presidency and political climate, and ultimately making it the agency it is today.  

Under Bush's presidency, immigration policies were strict, and ICE focused on preventing employment of undocumented workers, making 4,300 worksite arrests in 2006 alone, and the detainment of immigrants that had convicted crimes. This led to the 287(g) program being enacted from 2006 to 2012, which allowed state and local police officers to collaborate with ICE agents, and allowed them to perform duties of ICE agents to enforce federal immigration laws. However, this program was noted to be costly to locals, affected the relationship between communities and law enforcement, and also did not arrest any serious criminals, moreover immigrants who committed misdemeanors. This led to an issue that would continue throughout the entire history of ICE, more innocent immigrants were being deported than guilty ones, and emphasis on preventing terrorism began to shift to illegal immigration. 

As the years progressed, ICE’s focus changed from employed undocumented workers with no criminal history to illegal immigrants who posed security threats, had a serious criminal history, and recently crossed the border. Unlike his predecessor, Obama focused more on the original mission statement of ICE; to protect America from acts of terror, and also established factors that ICE agents must consider before deportation that made an immigrant “unremovable,” such as family ties, or the amount of time they had been in the States. Obama’s focus for ICE was seen through the Secure Communities Program of 2011, where local and state authorities began to work with ICE to find illegal immigrants in prison systems. Although the Obama Administration deported a record number of illegal immigrants, the administration put even more emphasis on immigrants with a criminal history rather than those without, seen in the creation of DACA, and the increase of emphasis on deportation among convicted immigrants.

Throughout two presidencies, ICE had adjusted depending on the political environment that surrounded it, but this statement applies most during the Trump presidency, where the fundamental values and ideas of ICE were completely changed, and #AbolishIce was born. 

So, what is the Abolish ICE movement and how did it come to be?

Within the first weeks of his presidency, Trump signed an executive order which led to a “manhunt” of illegal immigrants all around the United States, overturning Obama's order to focus only on immigrants who posed a threat to US safety. This began the nation-wide realization of how poorly America has treated their illegal immigrants, people were deported regardless of children they had in the States and their contribution to America. The biggest consequence of this was ICE completely disregarding its mission, it no longer became about protecting Americans, or preventing terrorism- ICE’s mission became arrest whoever can be deported. Kate Voight, the associate director of government relations with AILA, states that this is a “system-wide escalation at the expense of due process and fairness.” Although it is vital to note that the separation of families at the border and quality of detention centers are both acted out by the CBP - Customs and Border Protection - this is an issue magnified by ICE, who takes the immigrants they arrest to the inhumane detention facilities to be held. In addition, ICE is not responsible for the detainment of children but is responsible for housing adults while they go through the process of deportation, and is expected to aid parents in finding their children, which contributes to the separation of families at the border. 

In the past few years, ICE has strayed even further from its original goal, becoming an agency of mass deportation and arrest, rather than one that protects US citizens. It is this, and the issue of morality, that are the fundamental ideas behind the #abolishIce movement. Many Americans have recognized that the current operation of ICE is inhumane, and that the agency alone has completely disregarded its original goals to the point of no return. ICE actively participates in the deportation and arrest of families, students, and workers without hesitation, and to the point that the only way to truly stop the inhumane treatment of illegal immigrants in America, is to abolish - or at the very least defund - ICE. 

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