Wisconsin congressman Mark Pocan is right: the immigration agency cannot be fixed.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, angry and resolute, recently returned from visits to the United States-Mexico border. After seeing some of the facilities where agents have torn apart families, Pocan is determined to see an end to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Madison’s Democratic congressman is introducing legislation that would eliminate ICE and create “a commission to provide recommendations to Congress on how the U.S. government can implement a humane immigration enforcement system that upholds the dignity of all individuals.”
Pocan’s legislation is overdue. ICE is not some benign agency that has been temporarily corrupted by a xenophobic and racist administration. While the actions of ICE have taken on new and terrifying dimensions under the Trump administration, the agency has immorally used its power under all three presidents that have served since its creation, Republicans and Democrats alike. The Obama administration took some worthy actions regarding immigration, including the creation of DACA, but deportations also hit a record high during this time. Between 2010 and 2017, there were 1,224 sexual abuse complaints filed with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General involving immigration agencies, most of those involving incidents taking place while people were in ICE custody. Only three percent of these complaints were investigated.
ICE has a substantial footprint in Wisconsin, operating detention centers in Dodge County and Kenosha County. Numerous Wisconsinites, some who have lived here for decades, have been picked up by ICE unexpectedly as they showed up to their routine check-in with the Department of Homeland Security’s Milwaukee office. This isn’t just occurring 1,000 miles away; this is happening here, too. So it is good to see leadership from our representative to Congress.
Obviously, Pocan isn’t arguing for open borders and a lack of immigration enforcement, even if that’s the way that the right will try to paint it. I recently had some work done on my bathroom and we found that the subfloor was experiencing significant dry rot. So I had the existing subfloor torn out and replaced with something new. I didn’t just leave a giant hole where my bathroom floor had been. ICE is the law enforcement equivalent of rotting subfloor.
As little as a few weeks ago, Pocan would have found little support in Congress, even among the other legislators on the left. But there are already signs that is changing. Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a stunning victory in her New York primary on a platform that included abolishing ICE, showing that it can be an issue that resonates with many Democratic voters. Even before Ocasio-Cortez’s win, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) acknowledged that it is time to “reexamine ICE and its role.” Harris isn’t talking abolition yet, but it is a notably strong stance for someone with her background as a prosecutor, and her ambitions for the White House.
Frankly, it’s a bit ridiculous that there are prominent Democrats unwilling to even question ICE. This is not some bedrock agency that James Madison wrote into the Bill of Rights. ICE has only been around since 2003. It’s a government agency created the same year as Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” and Bad Boys II. ICE was created as part of the Homeland Security Act, a piece of the larger response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; it was rushed into existence without proper scrutiny during those panicked times.
Roe v. Wade is 45 years old, three times older than ICE. If we are going to have to spend the next decade fighting tooth and nail to protect Roe, I’m sure as hell not going to let ICE go unexamined.
Pocan’s legislation will take time and electoral victories in order to become reality. Until then, exposing ICE’s immediate actions is the purview of activists and journalists. But this legislation gives the left something to work towards, something positive to accomplish instead of desperately fighting our country’s backslide. It is demoralizing to constantly be on the defense, to make yet another call to a senator to try to get them to oppose a regressive bill. We have to have hope that there will be a time when we can make things better. Mark Pocan has provided some of that hope.
This column was originally published by the Madison weekly Isthmus.