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Calling to abolish ICE is how we will win

Philadelphia activists occupy ICE headquarters #occupyICEPHL via Flickr Photo: / Joe Piette

At AFSC we believe there is nothing divisive about the call to abolish ICE. Join us now by signing the petition to abolish ICE. As the idea has gained momentum and become a rallying cry, some pundits and policymakers have pushed back, arguing that eliminating the agency might be too radical an idea to gain broad support. But here's why we think that taking a principled, feasible stand - abolish ICE - is both strategically sound and just radical enough to bring about social change.

1. Abolish ICE is principled and reasonable.

The mission of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is at odds with the values and principles that AFSC and other rights activists hold dear.  Created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, ICE set out an extreme agenda: the deportation of all “removable” immigrants.  Grandparents and children, business owners and workers, students and caregivers: All are the targets of ICE. This is large scale family separation.

The criminalization of migration runs counter to the vision of the world we want, where everyone is valued as a human being. All people should be treated with dignity and respect and we should work to abolish a system that is inherently inhumane and that turns pain into profit. 

2. ICE brutality and unaccountability is well documented. It cannot be reformed.

From its inception, ICE’s purpose has been to deport millions of people, and that mission has entailed massive human rights abuses. Rounding people up, taking them from their homes and jobs and families, caging them in detention centers with horrific conditions, and deporting them has involved racial profiling, warrantless searches, and fabricated evidence. People die in ICE custody, and the agency has been the subject of more than 1,200 complaints of sexual and physical abuse. And such abuses are systemic and motivated by hatred: A recent report found more than 800 incidents of hate or bias-motivated abuse of immigrants in detention. The agency has worked hard to avoid any kind of accountability or oversight by Congress, and has specifically targeted activists and journalists who work to challenge ICE brutality – it is not an agency that tries to learn from mistakes or faces up to its abuses. It should be abolished. 

3. Taking a bold stance against inhumane immigration policies is not only principled but in line with public opinion. 

Calls to abolish ICE have become a chorus over a relatively short period of time, building on years of work by the immigrant rights and criminal justice reform movements. The simplicity and clarity of the slogan – Abolish ICE – bely a fundamental shift in how we think about immigration enforcement in this country. But is it strategic to call for something so big?

It’s worth remembering that Trump’s aggressive immigration policies are very unpopular. And research suggests that nativism is also unpopular. Public outrage is soaring at the administration’s inhumane abuses, as more people see the results of militarized immigration enforcement – in the faces of permanently traumatized children that the Trump administration kidnapped from their parents, and in the faces of anguished parents whose children have been wrested from them.

Three-quarters of Americans say immigration is good for the country – historic highs. Since April 2018 – when the campaign to abolish ICE was gaining nationwide attention - the share of Americans who view ICE negatively has risen by 11 points, and ICE has become the public's least favorite federal agency. 

4. We can’t let fear compromise principles before we even start.

Now is the time to seize the moment – as public opinion is shifting in our favor – to call for deep change. And immigrant leaders and organizations are leading the way forward. Calling to abolish ICE is a strong stand that is also strategic – in that it will inform and inspire more people to stand up for immigrants.

Few people are policy experts or pay close attention to national politics, but it doesn’t take expertise to recognize that something is deeply wrong with how our country is treating immigrants. People can see that a militarized deportation force doesn’t make anyone safer and is destroying lives and communities. 

Abolish ICE is a concise way to critique a deeply dehumanizing system. As a bold stance it has the possibility of inspiring enthusiasm and building energy – in a way that more incremental policy proposals simply can’t. 

5. The movement is calling for real change and abolishing ICE is a part of that – and this is how social change happens.

We are part of a movement of activists and organizers, communities of faith, and people of conscience. It is our job to shift the boundaries of what is possible and to push for the policies we actually want rather than what we see as politically feasible. We don’t think it is feasible or principled to meet ICE halfway.

Xenophobic, racist forces are pushing extreme policies that would amount to ethnic cleansing in the United States. If we, in response, put forward compromise positions that sacrifice members of our communities to the cruel deportation machine, we will never arrive at the world we want– a world without ICE and other militarized immigration enforcement and instead where all people are treated humanely. Social change happens when people can imagine new possibilities – and abolishing ICE is one step towards the world we seek. This is how we will win.

About the Author

Carly Goodman is a historian and served as the Communications Analyst and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow at AFSC.

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