Some on the far left aren’t content to simply protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. They want to abolish it. Indeed, getting rid of ICE altogether is quickly becoming a litmus test for politicians on the left.
But what would it actually mean to abolish ICE?
Let’s looks at ICE’s three missions: preventing terrorism, investigating illegal movement of people and goods, and immigration enforcement.
Without ICE, the Department of Homeland Security would lose its main law enforcement agency that focuses on counter terrorism. ICE participates in the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Taskforces around the country, providing U.S. law enforcement with important cross-border information used to find and stop terrorist plots against the homeland.
ICE also supports vetting of visa applications through the Visa Security Program, which deploys security specialists to U.S. consulates abroad to advise and assist State Department visa officers. Its Counter-Proliferation Investigations Program, meanwhile, works to prevent weapons of mass destructions and other weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists and other bad actors. And ICE’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit pursues those who illegal overstay their visa who may pose a security risk.
Similarly, without ICE, the government’s ability to investigate a variety of criminal activities would be weakened. ICE conducts investigations into cash, art, firearms, explosives and human smuggling. ICE also works to stop the trafficking of persons and the exploitation of children. ICE works to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, enforce trade and sanctions laws, and combat money laundering, cyber-crime and corruption.
Even those waving around their “Abolish ICE” banners can see that these functions are necessary and shouldn’t go away. It is the last of ICE’s missions — immigration enforcement — that draws most protestors’ ire.
Enforcing U.S. immigration laws includes engaging in removal operations to actually return illegal immigrants to their home country. In the course of prosecuting those who have broken U.S. immigration laws, aliens are often detained or monitored by ICE, just as other lawbreakers who are likely to abscond are often held or given terms for their release.
Since U.S. immigration laws include requirements for businesses to hire workers who are authorized to work in the U.S., ICE also enforces the law at worksites, as well as combats identity theft. Additionally, ICE works with state and local authorities to remove criminal aliens, gang members and fugitives from the law.
In essence, ICE finds, detains, prosecutes and deports aliens who have broken U.S. immigration laws. Most Americans understand that U.S. laws define the pathways through which an individual may legally enter and remain in the U.S. Anyone who does not enter the U.S. through these pathways or who after entering legally does not abide by the terms of their immigration status, has no right to remain in the U.S.
The U.S. has the right to determine what the standards are for immigrants entering and staying in the U.S. and to change those standards when it wishes. While it is a common talking point on the left that no human is illegal, humans do break laws and there are consequences for illegal behavior. Abolishing the immigration enforcement functions of ICE is ultimately about allowing any immigrant who illegally enters or remains in the U.S. to stay here, with or without any actual legal status.
U.S. immigration laws should be fully and faithfully enforced, something the Trump administration is trying hard to do. And while some object to specific policies or consequences of ICE’s policies, that’s hardly a good reason to junk the whole agency and the very concept of immigration laws.
That’s not to say it can’t be made better. There are, in fact, still many improvements to the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws that need to be made, including improving ICE’s ability to enforce the law and prosecute law breakers while also keeping families together.
But calls to abolish ICE represent a cry for unfettered illegal immigration into the U.S., not to mention seriously harming U.S. counterterrorism, law enforcement, and public safety efforts.
Quite simply, abolishing ICE is a primal scream for open borders and less security — an idea that cannot be taken seriously.
David Inserra is a policy analyst specializing in homeland security and cybersecurity at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).