Rep. Pocan: We must abolish ICE
In June, I traveled to Texas to tour the southern border of the United States and I saw firsthand the gut-wrenching effects of President Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy. As I toured the facilities detaining immigrant children separated from their parents, it became clear that the President has created this rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis.
While visiting a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility, my delegation of US senators and representatives met with mothers who had their children torn away from them. One mother sobbed as she talked about her child, showing us a small slip of paper that contained the only information she had about where the government was holding her child. It turns out that it was several states away. Another mother told us how agents did not ask if her children had allergies, if they were sick, or if anyone had ever abused them.
With the President grossly misusing ICE and the agency broken beyond repair, I'm proposing legislation to abolish the agency. Specifically, my bill would dissolve ICE within six months and create a commission to provide recommendations to Congress on how the US government can implement a humane immigration enforcement system that upholds the dignity of all individuals. The commission would then transfer necessary functions that do not violate basic human rights to other agencies.
Though much of the President's abusive crackdown on undocumented people and innocent children is focused on the borders, it's also happening in countless communities across the country. From conducting raids at garden centers and meatpacking plants, to targeting families outside churches and schools, the President is using ICE to tear apart families and rip at the moral fabric of our nation.
As a result, we have heard heartbreaking stories of mothers and fathers, grandparents, community members, and workers being pursued and detained by ICE and processed for deportation. Many of these people may not have the proper documentation, but the agency is increasingly arresting people who also do not have a criminal record. The President's blanket directive to round up and target all undocumented immigrants -- regardless of how long they have been in the United States, at what age they traveled here, and whether they have a criminal record -- has rendered the agency fundamentally incapable of conducting core parts of its mission of keeping our country safe in terms of terrorism or larger crimes.
Congress created ICE in 2003, following the September 11 attacks under the guise of national security. However, today the agency -- which initially focused on terrorism, as well as drug and human trafficking, among other duties -- has become synonymous with immigration raids, home invasions, the breaking up of families already in the United States, and abusive detention practices. The President's decision to ramp up these cruel ICE activities over addressing genuine national security threats means that many people -- regardless of whether they are in the country legally or illegally -- may now refuse to cooperate with the agency and instead hide out of fear.
Even ICE agents themselves recognize the irreparable damage being done. Last week, nineteen ICE agents wrote to Kristjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, stating that investigations "have been perceived as targeting undocumented aliens, instead of the transnational criminal organizations that facilitate cross border crimes impacting our communities and national security."
The authors of the letter -- along with many immigration advocates and members of Congress -- all agree that the agency is now failing to perform its core mission and that the best path forward would be to abolish the agency and start fresh. When the agency is being deployed against a father with a decades-old misdemeanor, or a mother with a traffic ticket, or a home filled with frightened children, ICE makes all of our communities more unsafe and insecure. Unfortunately, the agency appears to have become the President's personal security force, carrying out his relentless anti-immigrant campaign.
Abolishing ICE eliminates the President's unchecked power to conduct raids, while transferring issues like gang violence, organized crime, drug trafficking, and human trafficking to other government agencies that are already well-equipped to handle them. The Department of Justice and the Department of Labor, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, already investigate these issues and work on critical national security efforts. Turning these priorities back over to existing agencies would make our nation more secure given that these well-respected departments could work to stop threats without the detrimental mass-deportation reputation.
We all agree that our nation should have secure borders, that threats to the safety and security of the American people should be addressed, and that we must work to solve the root causes that force so many to flee violence and misery in their home countries. However, we do not need to detain children in a former Walmart, construct a tent city for minors in the desert, deport immigrants in good standing, and terrorize communities.
Abolishing ICE and cracking down on the President's decision to target and round up individuals and families with no criminal record is a strong step forward in developing a more humane immigration system, one that treats every person with dignity and respect. The United States must not abandon its longstanding history as a nation welcoming of immigrants -- one that has been a beacon of hope to people around the world -- just to fulfill one man's misguided efforts to appease his base.
As we celebrate the 4th of July and the freedoms our Founding Fathers and many Americans have fought for throughout our nation's existence, we should take a moment to remind ourselves of Emma Lazarus' poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. She writes, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." By voting to abolish ICE, Congress can help countless terrified families experiencing abuse at the hands of this rogue agency breathe a sigh of relief, while making our country safer from actual threats.
Editor's Note: Mark Pocan, a member of the Democratic Party, represents Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District in the US House of Representatives. He is Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.