Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
On Twitter on Sunday morning, President Donald Trump wrote, “The Liberal Left, also known as the Democrats, want to get rid of ICE, who do a fantastic job, and want Open Borders. Crime would be rampant and uncontrollable!” But Trump’s claim that Democrats want “open borders,” like so much of what Trump says, is a lie intended to mislead the American people. Democrats are absolutely not calling for that.
What’s true is that we’re seeing an increasing number of visible Democrats calling for an end to ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – because as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) put it, “ICE is tearing apart families and ripping the moral fabric of our nation.” This past week, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined with Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to call for ICE to be dismantled and replaced with a new agency. Pocan even introduced legislation to abolish ICE.
What Trump is trying to do is to manipulate people into believing that ICE is charged with policing our border crossings. It’s not. That’s the job of the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP.) As explained on the federal government’s own website, CBP “is responsible for protecting our nation’s borders in order to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, while facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel.”
So, what does ICE do? Well its own website explains that “the majority of immigration enforcement work for ICE takes place in the country’s interior.” In other words, ICE programs and its agents work to “secure a lawful workforce,” “enforce immigration laws,” and “find and remove illegal aliens who are criminals, fugitives or recent arrivals.”
By way of a brief background, ICE came into being in 2003. Prior to that, from 1933 to 2003, ICE’s current task was handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS.) But that changed after 9/11 when the federal government was reorganized to deal with the threat of terrorism. INS was abolished and, in its place, came ICE, a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Under President Barack Obama, ICE was at first used aggressively – deporting more people than any previous administration. But that changed in 2014 when the Obama administration instructed ICE officials to prioritize who they deported – with the focus on undocumented immigrants who threatened public safety or national security, had ties to criminal gang activity and the like. Add to that, the Obama administration gave officials discretion – before seeking deportation – to take into account factors such as if the person had lived in the United States for a long period of time, had a family and was a contributing member of the community.
Well, Trump ended that policy with one of his very first executive orders in January 2017. Trump then ordered ICE to arrest and deport anyone who was in the nation undocumented, not just those who were deemed dangerous.
Trump, who promised during the campaign to create his own personal militia known as a “deportation force,” had effectively transformed ICE to be just that. The result is that in 2017, ICE arrested and deported 46,000 people without criminal records, which is a 171% increase in the number of non-criminals over the year before.
ICE is now going after undocumented parents dropping off their children at school, as we saw in New Jersey in January. In that case, the two undocumented fathers arrested by ICE had no criminal records and were Christians who had fled Indonesia for fear of religious persecution.
In February, ICE arrested an undocumented woman in a Texas courthouse who was there seeking a restraining order because she alleged her boyfriend had been physically abusive. Think about the message Trump is sending by doing this. He’s telling undocumented women who are victims of domestic violence to suffer in silence because if they go to court for help, they may be deported.
And the list goes on.
But it’s not just Democrats calling for reform. This week a group of ICE agents signed a letter called on the DHS Secretary to reform the agency because the actions of those who are leading the raids against undocumented immigrants are, in their view, hurting the reputation and effectiveness of the agency.
This is what Democrats mean when they say “Abolish ICE.” It’s not open borders as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made clear in a recent tweet pushing back on Trump’s lie: “Open borders, @realDonaldTrump? The bipartisan immigration bill I authored had $40 billion for border security and would have been far more effective than the wall.”
But, to me, all the problems with ICE emanate from one person: Trump. They are carrying out Trump’s polices. That’s why if we want to be effective in ending Trump’s un-American family separation policy, his use of ICE as a personal deportation force and his unilateral ending of DACA, our focus must be this: “Abolish the Trump administration” by winning the midterms and the 2020 election.