After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an underdog victory in a congressional primary, her call to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement swept through the Democratic Party. Now, other leading Democrats are echoing her.
Progressives are angry at the Trump administration’s deportation of undocumented people and the fear that his immigration policies cause in minority communities. They are harnessing their base’s frustrations to score easy political points. Don’t fall for it. “Abolish ICE” is a left-wing populist rallying cry for those who are ignorant of all that ICE does.
Much of ICE’s work is uncontroversial. Aside from deportation, it also addresses gangs, counterterrorism, cybercrimes, foreign corruption, and child sexual exploitation. Some of its efforts even support liberal causes. For example, Democrats fight for stricter gun control. Last Tuesday, ICE agents seized 21 rifles that were about to be smuggled.
While comparisons between the Nazis and ICE’s deportations abound, other ICE agents are working to right the Holocaust’s injustices. In 2009, agents returned a painting that was stolen by the Third Reich back to its owner.
Closer to Princeton, ICE recently began warning airline passengers about female genital mutilation at Newark International Airport. Over in New York City, agents arrested three dozen Darknet vendors who were selling illegal goods.
ICE does a lot of excellent work that goes unnoticed. It shouldn’t be dismantled for political purposes. Modest proponents of Abolish ICE merely want to reassign its functions to other agencies. We should do this only if other agencies can spend its currently allocated tax dollars more efficiently or if ICE’s functions have become obsolete altogether. No one seems to be tackling these detail-oriented policy issues in their rhetoric.
Radical proponents think scrapping ICE entirely will end deportation, thus saving undocumented immigrants. Such action is unproductive. Deportation would still be a possible punishment in federal statutes, and Congress could give other enforcement officers the power to execute it. If activists want to end deportation, they need to change the laws, not abolish ICE.
That being said, the agency isn’t entirely innocent. Parts of it have mistreated prisoners and violated civil rights. Workers who broke the law should be punished. Perhaps ICE needs more oversight. But completely getting rid of it is jumping the gun.
Demands to abolish ICE resemble Republicans’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Deportation and abortion may be morally repugnant depending upon one’s political views. But ICE and Planned Parenthood each provides a litany of other services that both parties should agree help the public.
Unfortunately, the real losers in this fiasco are the ICE employees whose work doesn’t involve deportation. Democrats have unfairly painted them with the same brush and directed their supporters’ anger toward them. All of a sudden, half the country hates them without reason.
Thousands of Americans work as civil servants to improve the United States for all of us. It’s unfair to demonize entire agencies for enforcing unpopular laws that legislators give them. ICE is no different. Before we abolish it, let’s first try to fix it.
Liam O’Connor is a junior from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.