Our Opinion: Abolishing ICE doesn't get at root of problem

The calls by many prominent Democrats for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) are understandable in light of the agency's involvement in the abhorrent separation of families along the Mexican border. But ICE is only part of a larger problem when it comes to White House immigration policy, and focusing on it is likely to trigger a partisan political battle that will accomplish nothing of consequence.

U.S. Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, on Tuesday described ICE as a "massive deportation army," and not without good reason. Along with breaking up families along the border, ICE has been splitting up families here at home, including in Massachusetts, by arresting and deporting noncriminal immigrants who have been solid citizens. But ICE — or more accurately the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division of ICE— is merely a tool hammering bad policy handed down to it by an administration using an anti-immigrant strategy to motivate its political base.

In that sense, the Customs and Border Protection agency is a bigger problem than ICE. This agency determines border policy while ICE enacts it, frequently with goonish tactics that give it a high profile. Abolish ICE and border policies remain the same — they would simply be enacted by a different branch of the sprawling federal immigration enforcement bureaucracy. One example would be the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that has played its own shameful role in the breakup of immigrant families without attracting anywhere near as much heated criticism as ICE.

As part of that sprawling bureaucracy, ICE is involved with cybercrime, human trafficking and narcotics, and not every branch of ICE is deserving of criticism. In fact, ICE's Homeland Security Investigative Division has sent a letter to the secretary of Homeland Security, who directly oversees ICE, requesting that its division be split off from the rest of ICE. There is at least one section of ICE that doesn't want to be associated with the actions of the ERO division that have enraged Americans and people all over the world and it seems likely that there are more.

Attacking ICE as an entity allows Donald Trump to claim that Democrats are for open borders (as a party, they are not), and have no issues with illegal immigration (they do, but propose solutions, such as a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. that the president and his party refuse to consider). Calls for the abolishing of ICE propose a simplistic solution that can be demagogued in simplistic ways by the president and congressional Republicans.

Reforming or getting rid of a rogue agency within ICE that is an embarrassment to the nation could actually curry favor with some Republicans dealing with angry constituents in an election year. That, however, would require them to actually stand up to the leader of their party, who ever since his campaign began has scapegoated and misrepresented immigrants legal and illegal as criminals and animals in a transparent bid to ignite the passions of a base whose default emotion is anger. It's the president's divisive policies that are ultimately the problem, not the actions on the border of those who, with perhaps too much enthusiasm and enjoyment carry out those policies.


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