As the government heads toward another possible shutdown, immigration remains one of the most polarizing issues in Congress. Before the last shutdown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for eight straight hours in a filibuster to “defend DACA,” yet the same debate is still occurring more than a month later and there is no solution in sight.
Although DACA is certainly critical for protecting young immigrants in the U.S., it is a shortsighted and temporary fix to a much larger problem in the U.S. — the criminalization of immigrants and the existence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE was created in 2003 as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to the 9-11 attacks. Its primary mission, according to their website, is to “promote homeland security and public safety,” but ICE has in fact wreaked havoc on communities across the U.S.
As deportations soared to record levels during former President Obama’s first term, many began to question the efficacy and humanity of ICE’s deportation and incarceration programs. Only then was DACA signed into law as an assurance to activists and immigrants that their children would be protected. Regardless of those protections, ICE’s goal remains the same: the “100 percent removal of all removable aliens” in the United States. In other words, their mission is not complete until every person without proper paperwork is hunted down and forced out of the country.
Those who defend ICE typically do so on the grounds that “illegal immigrants” pose a legitimate threat to the security of the U.S. Those arguments ignore a substantial amount of research which concludes the opposite is true. For starters, many studies have shown immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than those born in the U.S. In addition, studies from the UCSD and the Center for American Progress found that cities where local authorities refuse to share data with ICE about undocumented immigrants — known as “sanctuary cities” — are safer than cities who do share data, and they have stronger economies as well.
Unfortunately, the data means nothing to President Trump, who has consistently insinuated that the U.S.-Mexico border is a pipeline for gangsters, rapists, murderers and terrorists. The DHS has already undergone a significant expansion, and even explored ways to operate without congressional oversight. To make matters worse, Trump recently announced a plan to pay a private firm for each new officer it helps ICE hire, with the goal of adding 16,000 new agents.
ICE is becoming more brutal as well. Numerous stories have gone viral describing ICE arrests without warrants or probable cause. In Washington, a man called 911 to report a trespasser, but when authorities showed up they arrested him instead on the suspicion that he was undocumented. Although total deportations are actually down compared to Obama’s time in office, arrest rates are increasing, which suggests that immigrants are spending more time in “detention centers.” One estimate found that over 35 thousand immigrants were detained on an average day in 2017, including children.
If you follow the money, the motive for the rapid expansion of ICE becomes much clearer. One look at the stocks of CEO Group — the biggest private prison company in the U.S. — reveals that Trump’s immigration agenda is a gold mine for companies who profit from incarceration. The President of CoreCivic, another private prison giant, explicitly stated that increasing arrests and decreasing deportations is good for business. Perhaps as a thank you gift, both CEO Group and CoreCivic gave $250 thousand to Trump’s inaugural celebrations.
In the search for profits, private prison corporations have an incentive to cut corners, which often means that immigrants are housed in conditions ranging from uncomfortable to downright unsafe. CEO group is currently facing allegations that immigrants were forced to do labor for one dollar per day. Since detainees are not citizens, there are no standards for living conditions, healthcare or legal services. That is a recipe for the exploitation of vulnerable people who have no legal redress.
It is time to radically rethink how we approach immigration in the U.S. From day one, ICE has been an institution that tears apart immigrant families in the name of security, despite a lack of data which suggests they are a threat. Trump has proposed a series of bold immigration policies from the Muslim ban to the border wall, and those who resist his agenda need a similarly audacious idea. DACA can provide a temporary fix, but the past months show the limitations of band-aid solutions. Only abolishing ICE could immediately defang the right’s radical agenda and send a signal that immigrants will not be treated like criminals.