When did our message of #KeepFamiliesTogether and #FamiliesBelongTogether get hijacked by #AbolishICE? More importantly, in this era of Kremlin-based strategic electoral propaganda, where did it come from? Frankly, there is no way to know for sure, but Senator Elizabeth Warren & Senator Kristen Gillibrand – both of whom are running for re-election in 2018 and have presidential aspirations for 2020 – have taken up the call. While this message may resonate in progressive Massachusetts and liberal New York State, it’s being rephrased in purple Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as “open borders.” Whether or not “Abolish ICE” has its roots in hostile foreign propaganda, it’s now a very risky Democratic political gambit.
We in the Resistance pride ourselves on informed dissent, so here are the facts. ICE is not separating families at the border, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) & CBP were founded on March 1, 2003. Both are descended from agencies that predated the creation of DHS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs Service. Both are law enforcement agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but CBP is deployed at the border, along the coastlines and at international airports. ICE conducts investigations and enforcement of federal immigration and customs statues across the United States, though it also maintains a diplomatic presence abroad. To be sure, ICE has been responsible for separating families, most notoriously during raids to net undocumented parents, when they arrived to pick up their kids from school.
Certainly, this is an emotionally-charged issue, as family separation should be. But I’m left to wonder if, in our outrage, we’ve forgotten how it is that ICE and CBP serve the American people? Leading up to the events of September 11, 2001, some terrorists – none of whom were from Muslim countries now banned by the Trump Administration – crossed the border from Canada into the United States. It was a moment that forever changed us as a nation. We also remember the events which followed: declaration of war against Afghanistan, where the terrorists were trained; Secretary of State Colin Powell’s anthrax vial at the U.N. to deceive our European allies into backing us in Iraq, where Al Qaeda was present, but not under the control of then-dictator, Sadaam Hussein; Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo Bay.
Our emotional reaction to the family separations today are far more intense than our outrage at the treatment of suspected terrorists at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, because the children who are torn from their families are innocent. It is right and just that we demand the family separations stop immediately and that the United States Government, who is responsible for separating children from their families, should be required to reunite all of the families they’ve ripped apart. We may go so far as to call for an investigation into the individual actors, whose actions, under orders from a corrupt, amoral and likely compromised president, may have been unethical. Even criminal. But do we really want to take the extreme step of abolishing Immigration & Customs Enforcement?
Whether there’s a political motive by Senators Warren and Gillibrand, or if they’re just as outraged as we are, the electoral math remains the same: New York and Massachusetts already have a full count of Democratic Senators and are in no danger of losing any of those seats to the GOP; conversely, calls to abolish ICE undercut our appeals to independents and moderate Republicans in Texas, where we hope to pick up seats in the House and Senate. These calls place red state Democratic Senators in the unenviable position of having to explain exactly what Democrats hope to accomplish by abolishing ICE, or perhaps most importantly, how abolishing ICE is not call for open borders.
We desperately need immigration reform. And there is much overlap, in terms of solutions favored by moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats. In fact, many vulnerable Republicans have reached across the aisle, because their districts rely heavily on migrant labor.
Abolishing ICE isn’t immigration reform. Our calls for dismantling the agency has the same net affect as flipping the bird at that driver who cut you off in traffic. It feels good at the time, but, if anything, it makes the problem worse. If your Democratic member of Congress has joined the chorus to put ICE in a deep freeze, remind them we are in the minority and would like, very much, to reverse that trend.