'Abolish' ICE? Maybe 'Purge' is a better word

Our view: Holding Immigration and Customs Enforcement accountable — or even replacing it with something else — isn’t just a left-wing fantasy, it deserves serious consideration

As political rallying cries go, “Abolish ICE” falls well short of the mark. Certainly, it captures the anger of much of the public at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the agency’s heavy-handed and inhumane tactics, especially its role in taking immigrant children from their parents and its continuing failure to reconnect them. Prisons handle their inmates’ street clothes with more care than ICE gave to families trying to cross the border. But it’s also misleading — and that gives opponents the chance to employ scare tactics claiming Democrats want no security on U.S. borders whatsoever.

President Donald Trump has certainly jumped on that bandwagon, relishing the chance to characterize Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as embracing a border-free environment where guns, gangs and drug cartels can cross back and forth with nary a care. “You get rid of ICE, you’re going to have a country that you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house,” President Trump said in a recent interview on Fox News. A Politico poll conducted July 6-10 found a majority of Americans favor keeping ICE in business and only 25 percent support abolishing it.

But that’s not really what “Abolish ICE” means, at least for most of the people advocating it. The abolish ICE movement seeks to phase out the agency and create a replacement with the same duties and responsibilities — just without the incompetence and cruelty that’s characterized its behavior in recent years. We know this because that’s exactly what legislation being put together by House Democrats seeks to do. The bill backed by Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and others would be more about reorganizing government then abolishing anything. The legislation recognizes the necessity of federal law enforcement agents combating drug smuggling, human trafficking and other border-related security needs.

Admittedly, “Reconstitute ICE” or “Reorganize ICE” doesn’t sound like much of a rallying cry. Perhaps a compromise might be to “Purge ICE” of its worst inclinations. The United States got along fine without an ICE for the vast majority of its history. ICE didn’t exist until just 15 years ago, and there’s a certain amount of post-9/11 national security freak-out baked into its operations that its predecessor INS — the Immigration and Naturalization Service (see the emphasis on naturalization, or conferring the rights of citizenship, built into its very title) did not have.

Americans deserve to be angry at the Trump administration. Aggressive deportation is one thing — the Obama administration participated in that practice, too — but it’s quite another to agree to be a willing participant in the folly that has been the “zero-tolerance” policy. The Trump administration not only forcibly removed immigrant children from their parents without knowing whether the family had a legitimate claim to be accepted into the country as refugees but also failed to maintain a record system capable of returning child-to-parent in a timely fashion. That’s largely why the administration isn’t keeping to a federal judge’s timetable for family reunification (excuses about child smugglers notwithstanding).

President Trump and others have made clear that ICE isn’t going anywhere during their watch, and that’s undoubtedly true. But restructuring ICE or giving it new marching orders is well within the jurisdiction of Congress whether or not the Democrats gain a majority in either chamber this fall. After all, there are Republicans who are clearly embarrassed by the zero-tolerance fiasco as well. Meanwhile, how odd is it to hear Trump supporters treat the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and the entire intelligence establishment from CIA to NSA as some kind of deep-state outlaws but reserve their good will for ICE, the agency that wrests 1-year-olds from their mothers? How far does the cult-like worship of Mr. Trump extend that they can ape his self-serving law enforcement backlash?

Does Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley and her anti-ICE platform signal a leftward shift in the Democratic Party, or does it simply reflect Democratic skepticism toward U.S. immigration policy expressed in 21st century, social media-driven, emotional terms? Our guess is the latter. Just get past the slogan and listen to the substance. Abolish ICE is the left’s equivalent of the right’s slogans of recent years to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. (Seriously, a majority of House Republicans have called for the tax collection agency’s “complete elimination.”) Given ICE’s miserable track record, it deserves the scrutiny from whichever party is willing to give it.

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