There is a growing outcry to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Although the groundswell largely is coming from advocates for immigration reform, some ICE agents within the bureau’s Investigations unit also are requesting a reorganization of ICE. In sum, it appears that many people with firsthand knowledge think it would be good policy to bust up ICE.
There is a political rub, however, and it is twofold. Most Americans favor stringent security at U.S. borders, and most do not know that ICE’s role in immigration enforcement is not at the border. Without a fuller understanding of the various immigration agencies within the federal government, many Americans misunderstand ICE’s mission and assume it would be reckless to abolish it.
In fact, ICE is among eight agencies that have important immigration functions and that are nested at the third tier down within five federal departments.
The ICE function that is the subject of extensive criticism and well-documented problems is its role overseeing the custody of foreign nationals who are detained by DHS. The law requires DHS to detain several classes of foreign nationals, including those who are inadmissible or deportable because of criminal, terrorist, or national security grounds; those who arrived in the United States without proper documents; and those who have final orders of deportation.
The privatization of ICE detention centers has exacerbated the problems the bureau faces and has given considerable fodder to media exposes of abuses. The DHS Office of Inspector General recently released a scathing report on failures of the private contractors to comply with detention standards. It’s time to restructure the responsibilities to administer detention and removal policies more humanely.
To its credit, ICE also performs critical assignments that include investigating foreign nationals who violate the laws. The main categories of crimes its agents investigate are suspected terrorism, criminal acts, suspected fraudulent activities (i.e., possessing or manufacturing fraudulent immigration documents) and suspected smuggling and trafficking of foreign nationals. ICE investigators are housed in the Homeland…