Free Migration Project’s executive director David Bennion and board member Steven Sacco published this piece a few months ago explaining why the ICE prosecutor’s office should be abolished along with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations. If immigrants don’t get attorneys, neither should the government.
Since Donald Trump began implementing his campaign promise to make the immigration system more hostile and restrictive, immigration enforcement has been under new scrutiny. Recent calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing immigration laws in the United States, have tended to focus on the immigration police who carry out deportations, a function primarily housed in the branch of ICE known as Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). ICE ERO’s ramped-up program of raids and detentions has been a highly-visible element of President Trump’s effort to solidify political support among revanchist white voters opposed to a multiracial future. However, getting rid of ICE’s immigration police is not enough. ICE also encompasses the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA), which includes the ICE attorneys responsible for prosecuting people in immigration court. As practicing immigration attorneys, we believe that calls to abolish ICE should extend to ICE counsel, since ICE attorneys play an integral role in the deportation process by securing the deportation orders that ICE deportation officers later carry out.
We believe that the immigration legal system is unjust in both purpose and process. Congress designed the immigration system to prevent people of color from entering and integrating into the United States, and the courts have too often interpreted the law to further this basic goal. Due process protections for people in deportation proceedings have been intentionally limited to better implement that illegitimate purpose. Sean McElwee has aptly described the ICE immigration police as “an unaccountable strike force executing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Our immigrant clients experience the full force of that unaccountable and illegitimate legal system through long-term imprisonment, family separation, and the constant anxiety that the threat of exile produces. Our work has led us to support open migration as a basic human right. But we hope that even those who don’t share that view will come to support the elimination of ICE’s prosecutorial branch because it would make immigration proceedings more fair and rational.