Opinion: Let’s audit ICE, not abolish it

The self-defeating #AbolishICE movement got played against the very Democrats who support it this week.

On Wednesday, Republicans brought to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives a nonbinding resolution in support of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the federal agency that, among other things, apprehends and deports undocumented immigrants.

The resolution passed easily with a vote of 244 to 35, with 133 members merely voting “present.” The 133 astutely perceived that a nay vote would show up in campaign literature in November painting them as soft on national security.

If you haven’t heard about #AbolishICE yet, maybe you don’t watch enough Fox News or follow enough angry leftists on Twitter. The #AbolishICE hashtag represents a growing movement to push back against the greatly expanded deportation and detention efforts — including separating children from their parents — that Trump has made a centerpiece of his administration.

But abolish is a tough word.

Entirely absent from the House legislation any notion of examining the $6 billion agency’s effectiveness or fairness. That, indeed, would be a better tack for Democrats to take. How about getting behind #AuditICE.

Consider that 19 Homeland Security special agents in charge have deftly made an argument in favor of such an examination. Last month, they wrote a letter gracefully laying out the problems with the president’s policies, making the case that the rogue nature of deportations of late is undercutting their role. It was addressed to Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security, who oversees ICE.

The agents are with Homeland Security Investigations, HSI, which deals with transnational terrorism threats, human trafficking, child exploitation, the smuggling firearms and narcotics fueling the opioid epidemic, and cyber-security.

They want to be separated from the agents of Enforcement and Removal Operations, or ERO, which does exactly what the name implies. These folks are the arm of DHS that is causing the headlines of late, the protests and the hashtag #AbolishICE.

In short, the agents argued that they can’t do their job effectively because they are seen as too close to the highly criticized, highly politicized nature of ERO. You could say that the Trump administration’s harsh handling of immigrants is affecting their work. “Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration,” their letter stated.

The letter also pointed out that sometimes HSI agents receive cooperation only when the “ICE” name is left out of any public information.

That’s a pretty compelling argument. And it ought to be the starting point for where Congress goes, eventually, when it tires of playing games with hashtags and banal resolutions.

Don’t expect #AbolishICE to go away anytime soon. It, too, has some political legs.

In fact, the left’s new “it” girl, the recent congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, has thrown her support behind the movement, rightfully raising questions about the agency’s role in separating and terrorizing otherwise law-abiding families with the threat of deportation.

Yes, ICE, or more specifically ERO, needs an overhaul. It needs to be gutted and turned inside out and realigned to do the job that it was intended for in the first place: keeping America safe. That requires an audit, not abolition.

Writes for Tribune Content Agency.

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