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Abolish ICE, a perspective from the border

Pedro Ríos  |  Issue: September | October 2018
protest against putting children in cages and separating families

On June 30, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in some 750 cities across the country and in Puerto Rico,
exercising their democratic right to protest against putting children in cages and separating families.


In recent months, campaigns calling for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with interior immigration enforcement, have gained momentum in the struggle to protect the rights of migrant communities.  They are championing a bold agenda of putting at the forefront a justice-centered politic that prioritizes human beings over the separation of families that ICE perpetrates since its inception in 2003.

ICE regularly terrorizes migrant communities as it conducts home and worksite immigration raids where rights are trampled upon.  ICE has remained largely unaccountable when migrants have died under its custody, or when its agents involved in abusive practices continue to operate with impunity.

The call to abolish ICE has gained popularity as many also disavow the Trump administration’s border policies of family separation and zero tolerance.  Images of migrant children sleeping on concrete floors covered with silver mylar blankets and locked in oversized fenced kennels epitomize the problematic nature of a broken immigration system where ICE is one of its culprits.

Family separation isn’t specific to border communities. It occurs every day whenever ICE conducts an immigration raid.  In May 2018, a forceful raid occurred in San Diego where ICE agents pointed guns at children and a grandmother as they broke open the door, tossing the search warrant on the ground only after they violently extracted the breadwinner of the household.  ICE was created exactly for this, to foment fear as it attempts to remove working people from the United States.

While some suggest ICE can be reformed because it has redeemable qualities, to call for the abolition of an agency responsible for pummeling our communities is a reasonable policy platform.

With the Operation Streamline starting up in San Diego, a joint initiative between the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security that fast-tracks criminal prosecution for those detained crossing the United States without inspection, more people will fall under ICE custody, and the potential for abusive practices are sure to rise.

Communities are organizing against these policies and practices. In early July, thousands descended in San Diego to jointly protest Streamline and ICE.  Recently, the ICE Out of California coalition convened in Fresno, CA to strategize about strengthening California policies that seek to disentangle local law enforcement from ICE operations.  An overarching theme from the meeting attended by dozens of statewide organizational representatives was that ICE must go.

If our movement seeks to protect the most vulnerable from violent political agendas, we must lead with principled stances that give us direction on speaking our truth to power.  Abolishing ICE needs to be at the forefront of that conversation.

Pedro Ríos is director of the American Friends Service Committee’s US-Mexico Program, based in San Diego, CA.

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