“Abolish ICE” is about as perfect a political slogan as you’ll ever hear. It’s short, powerful, and succinctly describes its stated intention—to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal law enforcement agency tasked with separating families, detaining migrant children in cages, and rounding up Central and South American refugees deemed “illegal.”
Those duties have changed over time, of course. Under the Trump administration, ICE (along with other Department of Homeland Security forces) is now tasked with occupying American cities to combat violent crime. Though they weren’t requested or invited by local lawmakers, the thin mandate of “protecting federal buildings” is cited as reason enough to enter cities without badges, kidnap protestors in unmarked vehicles, and operate with no scope of authority.
In Portland, the pretext for "surging" federal agents on the street is to protect federal buildings. In Chicago, they aren't even pretending that there's a federal nexus.
— JJ MacNab (@jjmacnab) July 22, 2020
Now, Trump is expanding the operation into other major cities and ignoring the original mandate. And it’s becoming clear that ICE (and DHS as a whole) isn’t meant to keep the peace or protect anyone.
The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003 as a means to combat terrorism in America in the wake of 9/11. But its scope far exceeded battling terrorist organizations. Under the Patriot Act, DHS and its underlying agencies were able to surveil Americans, profile them based on race and behavior, and target peaceful political groups, among several other overreaching directives. ICE, which was created as a part of DHS, was designed to combat “cross-border crime”—but that’s always been more of a conservative talking point than an actual serious issue. Research shows that undocumented immigration doesn’t increase violence, and that the “relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative.”
The real fear of DHS, as critics warned both in 2003 and now, is the agency’s federal mandate to surveil and detain people without reasonable cause and strip them of their rights. ICE focuses its terror specifically on immigrant communities of color and “illegal” immigrants. But the definition of who’s “illegal” isn’t static—the government has the power to define and redefine the term to include whomever it desires. Yesterday it was undocumented immigrants, but today (quite literally) it could be a peaceful protestor, innocent bystander, or teenager tagging a federal building with graffiti.
Human rights are at the core of movements like Abolish ICE and Black Lives Matter. If the federal government or state-empowered law enforcement have the ability to actively violate a human being’s rights based on their ethnicity, skin color, or immigration status, they have the ability to violate a human being’s rights for any reason they choose. DHS and ICE are agencies built to operate at the behest of the president and Department of Justice to detain enemies of the state—and the state decides who those enemies are. That the department is so relatively young underscores that purpose and suggests how unnecessary it truly is.
Abolish ICE isn’t just a call to action or a political slogan—it’s a warning. Portland and the major cities to follow are just further proving ground.