The Left has a new crusade: pushing to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It’s not because all federal bureaucracies are wasteful, incompetent, and inefficient, a claim that besides surely being true is appealing across the political spectrum. They claim the agency is a “deportation force” ripping families apart.
Erasing the country’s ability to vet who comes into our country is not just being embraced by the radicals of the so-called “resistance,” but increasingly by Democratic Party politicians. The stance was largely confined to the op-ed pages of left-wing and libertarian publications until U.S. senator and likely 2020 presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) supported it.
“I believe that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has become a deportation force … and that’s why I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works,” Gillibrand told CNN.
Democrats Begin a Pile-On to End Border Enforcement
She was joined by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, another potential 2020 presidential candidate. “ICE has been sent on a very negative divisive mission, and it cannot function the way it is,” de Blasio told WNYC radio. “So I think [New York Democrat socialist candidate Alexandra] Ocasio-Cortez is right. We should abolish ICE. We should create something better.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated long-time U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in a recent primary, campaigned on abolishing ICE. “We’re starting to realize that ICE — part of that suite of legislation has a structure that allows for civil rights and human rights abuses,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And, you know, it may seem like a radical position, but I actually think it is very, very common sense. You know, we should not be separating children from their families.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also joined the calls to abolish ICE. “The president’s deeply immoral actions have made it obvious we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works,” Warren said. Meanwhile, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has sent mixed signals on the topic, to put it charitably. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) has filed a bill to abolish the agency.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), with whom Ocasio-Cortez has direct affinity, have also been advocating the abolition of ICE. “Trump and his right-wing supporters are using racist attacks on immigrants and whipping up Islamophobia to divide working people. And establishment Democrats still aren’t doing enough to stop him. You can help stop the racist targeting of immigrant families and communities by standing up to say we must abolish ICE and end the Muslim ban now,” explain the DSA in a call to action.
Cutting Government? Great. But This Isn’t That
First of all, Democrats should be praised for even considering the abolition of any government agency. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend where Democrats give serious consideration to the effectiveness of federal agencies and programs. Perhaps they should also give some thought to limiting the size and scope of government, because any big bureaucracy is going to bungle its job and Americans themselves know better what to do with their own money.
But the demands for abolishing ICE are not about limiting government corruption through reducing its size. Merely eliminating the agency would make America less safe and put the American people at risk. If if another organization merely replaces it instead, that would ultimately accomplish nothing. It would be an expensive symbolic gesture.Either one would also create an incentive to increase illegal immigration.
To explain why we should keep ICE, we need to explore a couple of things. First, does the federal government even have power to regulate immigration? Secondly, do we even need ICE?
The most famous questioner of the federal government’s power to regulate immigration is George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin. He has argued that there is no constitutional authority to regulate immigration. But the Independence Institute’s Rob Natelson makes a convincing argument that immigration power is vested under the authority to enforce “the law of nations.” Among the “law of nations” is the authority of nations to control who can enter the country. In any event, the U.S. Supreme Court declared immigration control a federal power in 1876.
Protecting Borders Is an Appropriate Federal Function
ICE was created in 2003 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as a part of the Department of Homeland Security, taking over from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. INS failed to catch five of the nine 9/11 hijackers who overstayed their visas. ICE was created because the INS had proved ineffective at enforcing immigration laws.
ICE incorporated the internal enforcement powers of INS and the investigative and intelligence services of the U.S. Customs Service. It has two departments, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). HSI focuses on things such as arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and other crimes. Here’s an example of some of their work:
— ICE (@ICEgov) July 5, 2018
A 41-year old VA man faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 after pleading guilty to trafficking large quantities of contraband cigarettes across state lines for redistribution & resale in a case investigated jointly with @ICEgov HSI. https://t.co/Aq59VyZgx5
— National IPR Center (@IPRCenter) July 5, 2018
— ICE (@ICEgov) July 3, 2018
— ICE (@ICEgov) July 3, 2018
Protecting national security and stopping violent border criminals are important duties for the federal government. Not doing these things will place the country’s security and safety at risk. We could have a legitimate conversation about focusing the agency on these appropriate tasks, but when people are shouting “abolish ICE” as a battlecry, that means abolishing its legitimate functions as well as its mistakes.
ERO focuses on internal enforcement of immigration laws. It is also the agency that has drawn the most criticism. Leftists insist ERO is terrorizing immigrants and Latinos.
The first question that needs to be raised is whether there should even be internal immigration enforcement. If the answer is no, then we might as well eliminate all immigration laws and not even issue visas. All a prospective immigrant has to do is beat the Border Patrol and they’re home free. There would also be no incentive for anyone to leave when his visa expires.
If ICE opponents want to make the argument for open borders, then make the argument. Some libertarian scholars do for various reasons. Socialists also advocate for open borders as a way to destroy the capitalist system. The left’s infamous Cloward-Piven strategy also sees using illegal immigrants as a way to overburden the U.S. welfare system and collapse capitalism.
But most opponents of ICE claim they don’t support open borders. Indeed, there is very little support for open borders among the American people at large. If we’re going to reject the concept of open borders, then deportation will certainly be required to enforce immigration law. There will need to be an agency tasked with enforcing immigration law inside the country and enforcing visas.
Don’t Like Our Laws? Then Change Them The Right Way
This brings us to the problem most of ICE’s critics have, which is that ICE is deporting too many people in their minds. Specifically, they criticize the Trump administration’s decision to deport increasing numbers of illegal immigrants without criminal records beyond the illegal entry. Under the Obama administration, ICE focused on recently arrived illegal immigrants and criminals. The Trump administration kept those two priorities and added to them all foreign trespassers under an order of removal.
The problem is not really with ICE per se. The Left’s problem is with the Trump administration’s enforcement priorities. Internal immigration enforcement surely needs to be debated, but it’s hard to see how abolishing ICE will help. All that will happen is that another agency will be created with the same immigration enforcement powers. It is a case of putting lipstick on a pig. Ultimately, it’s a waste of time.
Abolishing ICE would throw out a welcome mat for illegal immigrants, especially those who want to harm America. It would also be a boon for human smugglers, sex traffickers, and other international criminals. There would be no effective enforcement of laws against those types of crimes. Finally, it would ultimately accomplish nothing because another agency would take its place.
The sooner the concept of “abolish ICE” is out of the political discussion, the sooner the country can move on to more serious things. It is not a serious idea, and should not be treated as one.