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Abolish ICE? Not So Fast

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Since its founding in 2003, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, also known as ICE, has intercepted countless pounds of illegal narcotics and arrested thousands of gang members and professional criminals. It has brought to justice human traffickers, taken illegal firearms off of criminals, and protected the American people from an array of other horrific and nefarious crimes.

But don’t tell that to some on the far-left who have recently been calling for ICE’s abolishment, such as self-described ‘democratic’ socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. At 28 years old, she recently defeated 10-term Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley to become the nominee in New York's 14th Congressional District.

It has been a difficult past few years for the Department of Homeland Security and particularly ICE, which operates as an agency under DHS with over 20,000 employees and an annual budget of about $8 billion.

Many of the recent criticisms from the far left have been less about the terrible crimes that ICE has been stopping but rather about its general day-to-day work, which includes border protection and deportation proceedings.

Recently the tragic situation of parents being separated from children has become large in the public mind, acting as a spark to light anti-ICE sentiment. Based off long-standing policing policy also in place under the Obama administration, it has been stopped as President Trump has signed an executive order halting it. Nonetheless, the broader anti-ICE sentiment seems to be currently continuing to balloon.

When people speak of abolishing ICE, of course there would never be a situation where suddenly our borders are left unprotected and deportation proceedings stopped. In the machinery of the federal government, particularly for important fundamental agencies, when their publicity has become so bad that they need to be “abolished” they are more often merely just replaced.

We saw this for example during the 2008 financial crisis with the various financial regulatory agencies. As this slew of agencies faced severe criticism from both policymakers and the public over their inability to stop the practices that ballooned the economic contagion, some agencies such as the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) within the U.S. Treasury Department were abolished.

However the functions of the OTS in terms of overseeing savings banks and savings-and-loans associations were not at all gotten rid of, but rather redistributed to other agencies such as the Federal Reserve Board, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Ironically, the OTS’s creation itself was as a mere name change from its previous incarnation several decades before as the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which was replaced amid a series of scandals and crises in the 1980s.

Were ICE to be abolished, it would likely be a similar situation as public anger dissipates while many of the actual functions of the agency are distributed to the variety of other national security and policing agencies within the federal government. The net immediate policy impact would, under those assumptions, be small.

However even so, ICE should not be abolished. To do so would be to give in to the arguments of those who have tarred the agency and create a worrying standard that might chill the ability of ICE and other agencies to affirmatively fulfill their duties in the future.

If the successor of ICE is worried that in merely following immigration law currently on the books they will also face severe congressional and public blowback, then the actual process of immigration enforcement would be greatly weakened from its already precarious and extremely difficult-to-implement state.

The questions surrounding immigration reform and the enforcement of our immigration laws are extraordinarily complex and multifaceted, as I’ve previously recently discussed. Nonetheless, for the particular issue of whether it is worth giving into the far-left and making the symbolic, but also policy-impacting in the long-term, move of abolishing ICE we should not be so quick to throw the agency under the bus.

The effects of abolishing ICE and renaming it or redistributing its functions could in the long-run hurt our immigration enforcement ability at a time when it is already extremely difficult to enforce and implement. It also tarnishes the risks and efforts that the thousands of ICE agents and staff make every day in trying to secure our country from what are sometimes extremely dangerous elements.

ICE is in the middle of immense public controversy at the moment, but in looking at such an impactful agency and policy move on our country we should do so with a level head and looking at all the factors and stakeholders involved rather than merely embracing momentary knee-jerk sentiment.

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