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"If you're in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable … You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried."
– Thomas Homan, former acting director of ICE, in testimony before Congress
The roguish activities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have under gone much greater scrutiny since June, when Donald Trump's implemented his "zero tolerance" immigration policy of separating parents from their children as they crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. Over the course of its relatively brief history, ICE officials and officers have been accused of having "a known history of human rights abuses, and corruption," The Huffington Post's Juan Escalante recently reported. Now, in addition to detaining immigrants by the thousands – many being held at privately run facilities -- ICE is committed to promoting fear in immigrant communities.
According to Escalante, "In the year and a half Trump has been commander in chief, ICE and CBP [Customs and Border Protection] have: Entered homes to detain immigrants without presenting a warrant; Detained immigrant parents in broad daylight as they dropped their children off at school; Lied on official documentation to try to frame a Dreamer as a gang member; [and], Continue to hold young migrant children in detention away from their parents.
For these and many other reasons, many are calling for the abolishment of ICE or, at least, for its complete overhaul.
In his extensive article titled "How ICE Went Rogue" ("How Trump Radicalized ICE" online) in the September issue of The Atlantic magazine (posted online in August) Franklin Foer delivers a mini-master class on the short history and increasing roguishness of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and the imperious corporations benefitting from the increasing incarceration of immigrants.
From an agency feared mostly by immigrants and virtually unfamiliar to most Americans, ICE has soared into the spotlight since Trump's 2016 election. As Foer pointed out, employees of ICE endorsed Trump's candidacy, making it "the first time the organization had ever lent its support to a presidential contender."
ICE officials greeted Trump's election with great enthusiasm. He's "taking the handcuffs off," said Thomas Homan, who served as ICE's acting director under Trump until he retired several months ago. "When Trump won, [some officers] thumped their chest as if they had just won the Super Bowl," a former ice official told Foer.
Interestingly, ICE did not exist before terrorists took down the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. "In the Justice Department, there was the old Immigration and Naturalization Service," Foer noted. "But while the mission of INS had always included the deportation of undocumented immigrants—and it occasionally staged significant workplace raids—it never had a large force that would enable their systematic removal from the nation's interior."
ICE's post-9/11 massive growth
Post 9/11, ICE was created as part of the Department of Homeland Security, which with the addition of the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Coast Guard, "became the third-largest of all Cabinet departments."
By 2012, ICE was on the receiving end of $18 billion for immigration enforcement, compared to $14 billion "for all the other major criminal law-enforcement agencies combined: the FBI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Secret Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service."
While ICE was growing massively, a handful of corporations, including Geo Group and CoreCivic, the two largest corporate operators of private prisons, was growing lobbyists and influence peddlers. Foer noted that "Owners of ice's private detention facilities were generous donors to Trump's inauguration, contributing $500,000 for the occasion."
While maintaining that borders need to be policed, Foer recognizes that ICE is carrying out its mission of "removing undocumented immigrants" with "cold, bureaucratic efficiency."
"Under the current administration, many of the formal restraints on ICE have been removed," Foer wrote. "In the first eight months of the Trump presidency, ICE increased arrests by 42 percent. Immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small clique of militant anti-immigration wonks. This group has carefully studied the apparatus it now controls. It knows that the best strategy for accomplishing its goal of driving out undocumented immigrants is quite simply the cultivation of fear. And it knows that the latent power of ICE, amassed with the tacit assent of both parties, has yet to be fully realized."
According to Foer, many of those employed by ICE were unable to get hired by other government agencies. "The ranks of ICE are drawn in large part from retired members of the military and from former Border Patrol agents, who prefer the metropolitan locations of ICE offices to the remote outposts dotting the nation's southern border. The job is a solid option for high-school graduates, who are not eligible to apply to federal agencies that require a college education. It makes for an accessible entry point into federal law enforcement, a trajectory that comes with job security and decent pay, and perhaps the hope of someday storming buildings or standing in the backdrop of press conferences, beside tables brimming with seized contraband."
In terms of employee satisfaction, ICE ranks in the lowest 10 percent of 305 federal agencies surveyed.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vigorously praised ICE, resulting in 95 percent of them endorsing him at the union's assembly. Trump pledged that they would "be very, very busy doing your jobs."
Full house at private detention facilities
The past decade and a half has seen an enormous growth in ICE's capacity to detain immigrants. As Foer pointed out, "In 2004, Congress directed ICE to add 8,000 new beds a year. (In 1994, the government maintained a daily average of 6,785 detainees; this year, the expected average is 40,520.)"
And that where such corporate giants of the prison industrial complex – the mega funds such as Vanguard and BlackRock, and corporate private prison leaders GeoGroup and CoreCivic, come in for a huge payday.
Many of the private facilities are maintained poorly and located in areas that are difficult for family and lawyers of the detained to get to: "Civil detention is explicitly not meant to be punitive—merely a necessary step in the administrative process of deportation—but the distance to some facilities makes regular visits from relatives extremely difficult. Immigration lawyers told me that they tend not to take cases in such facilities, because access would be so difficult."
Trump establishes team of 'committed ideologues'
In what might seem counter factual in comparison with his picks for cabinet positions and other important posts, Trump "has installed a group of committed ideologues with a deep understanding of the extensive law-enforcement machinery they now control." Most notably among them is L. Francis Cissna, "the head of the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [who] is a longtime bureaucrat at the Department of Homeland Security who styled himself a dissident during the Obama years."
Earlier this year, Cissna "rewrote its mission statement, erasing a phrase that described the United States as a 'nation of immigrants'" claiming that "he wanted to emphasize the 'commitment we have to the American people'."
A few months ago, Cissna "announced the opening of an office that would review the files of naturalized citizens, reexamining fingerprints and hunting for hints of fraud that might enable the revocation of citizenship."
Stephen Miller, a White House senior advisor, is one of the architects of Trump's more appalling approaches to immigrants.
Then, there is a fellow named Gene Hamilton, a Jeff Sessions trained anti-immigrant ideologue. After a stint at DHS, Hamilton moved on to advise Sessions, where he and the attorney general "have instituted a highly insular, fast-moving enforcement operation."
And a lot of what we now see as Trump's immigration policy stems from Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, and the GOP's nominee to become the state's next governor. When boiled down, Kobach's "doctrine holds that the government doesn't have the resources to round up and remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation, but it can create circumstances unpleasant enough to encourage them to exit on their own."
As Kobach once wrote, "Illegal aliens are rational decision makers. If the risks of detention or involuntary removal go up, and the probability of being able to obtain unauthorized employment goes down, then at some point, the only rational decision is to return home."
We'll give The Atlantic's Franklin Foer the last word: "Once you understand that self-deportation is the administration's guiding theory, you can see why immigration hawks might take satisfaction in supposed policy defeats. Even if putative fiascoes such as the initial Muslim ban and family separations at the border fail in court or are ultimately reversed, they succeed in fomenting an atmosphere of fear and worry among immigrants. The theatrics are, in effect, the policy."
For Mark Karlin, whose work embodies an informed and passionate dedication to social justice.