#AbolishICE Is Not a Slogan, It’s a Call to Action

#AbolishICE is a call to action to individuals and local communities to engage in this transformation and bring about a better future for immigrants and current citizens alike. Here's how you can help.

[Photo: Activists rally against the Trump administration's immigration policies outside the New York City ICE offices.]
What started as a specific demand to change the way immigration is enforced, inspiring activists to secure local victories in their community, has become the catalyst for a wider vision around immigration policy. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In recent months, calls to #AbolishICE have moved beyond direct actions and articles in progressive media outlets onto policy debates among political candidates and lawmakers, most recently in the form of a congressional bill that almost came to a vote. With the resulting retaliatory resolution by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in support of the federal immigration agency, at the same time that some progressives in favor of abolition have won their respective primaries, it’s clear the discussion is not ending anytime soon.

Supporters of the campaign need to have a clear understanding of exactly what we are aiming to abolish—the entirety of the U.S. immigration system’s current form—and what actions people can take on the local or individual level to disrupt the detention and deportation apparatus. Without a clear understanding of the larger immigration reform vision, advocates and concerned citizens may lose sight of what they are fighting for and stop applying pressure against elected officials and pursuing abolition and larger reform. Centrist cynicism and unmotivated politicians may allow the moment to pass.

We all have a role to play in preventing that from happening and building a lasting and victorious campaign. Now is the time to double down.

Let me first clarify that the demand to abolish ICE is neither unreasonable nor random. Protests against ICE have existed since the federal agency’s inception in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Most recently, those calls for radical change only intensified after Trump’s ”zero-tolerance policy” earlier this summer.

In general, activists’ concerns about the agency range from its involvement with the separation of at least 3,000 children from their parents, detention of 38,000 people daily in the 2017 fiscal year, history of systemic sexual assault, and track record of child abuse. Additionally, the agency’s inclination toward punishment; focus on immigration enforcement over all other duties, which was confirmed by its stated goal to deport all possible undocumented people; and its shameful misallocation of resources, which could be used to reduce the backlog of immigration cases or to address other system failures, have contributed to a groundswell of support for its abolishment.

It is crucial for #AbolishICE supporters to learn how the detention and deportation system actually operates and how ICE may be working within your community to further criminalize undocumented people. There are three major programs that ICE uses to track, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants in collaboration with local law enforcement:

  • The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) is one of the oldest immigration tracking and detention systems; its origins date back to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. CAP is a voluntary information-sharing program that enables local jails to identify undocumented immigrants in their custody, notify ICE, and process “detainer” requests, which are not legally required, to keep these immigrants in custody for an additional 48 hours until ICE determines whether to take them into federal custody for deportation processing. This program is the largest and most effective for ICE to identify undocumented immigrants who have come into contact with law enforcement, thus making them a target for immediate deportation under the Trump administration.
  • The Secure Communities Program, originally created by George W. Bush in 2008, made it a federal requirement that state and local law enforcement share fingerprint data with ICE so that the data may be cross-checked against various immigration databases. Though Obama replaced the program with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to little change, Trump effectively reinstated the program in January 2017. Secure Communities has raised particular concerns about its targeting practices, considering it scrutinizes immigrants before they are convicted of a crime.
  • The 287(g) program directly connects ICE and local law enforcement, enabling local police to act an ICE enforcement proxies. Rather than notify ICE to initiate the federal detention and deportation process, local law enforcement are trained and empowered to issue detainers and begin removal proceedings on their own, with little federal oversight. Funded by taxpayers, this program transforms community police into deportation agents.

These programs are the foundation of the inter-agency system that prosecutes undocumented immigrants. Though the details differ in each program, there are two basic cooperation functions local law enforcement engage in: 1) the identification and sharing of undocumented immigrants status at the point of police contact, and 2) the detention and custody transfer of undocumented immigrants enabling ICE to process detention and removal.

Understanding these two functions, citizens can engage their local government and institutions to end cooperation with ICE on both levels. Some methods for engagement include:

  • Political Engagement – Review this excellent toolkit from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) for a deep dive into the operations and specifics of ending local collaboration. The first task is to identify the programs and specific ways your local government and law enforcement cooperate with ICE. (Speak to local undocumented communities and public defenders for insight.) Once the programs and practices are known, identify key figures and institutions that govern these bodies, such as country boards or city councils. Then work with other advocates in your community to develop a clear plan to change these policies, including making political demands and pushing legal or legislative procedures. Instituting a policy to end practical cooperation by local law enforcement can have a major impact on protecting immigrant communities.
  • Divestment – Detention is one of the core functions of ICE and Customs and Border Protection, and ending this continuously expanding apparatus is an urgent human rights priority. Using similar methods as with political engagement, citizens can pressure local governments to end ICE’s use of local space for detention. Unfortunately though, that wouldn’t be enough, as roughly three-fourths of ICE’s detainees can be held in private prisons at any given time. Major private prison companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group have seen huge returns on their investment of a combined $500,000 contributed to Trump’s inaugural fund. Citizens must demand local governments, as well as universities, banks, and private companies, divest from these companies and put an end to the use of private prisons both for immigrant detention and more generally.
  • Physical Disruption – Protest has taken physical form in the shape of a new ”Occupy” movement, Occupy ICE, which has swept across the country. While often facing police crackdown, protesters have managed to shut down detention facilities and end data-sharing programs between ICE and local law enforcement. This confrontation helps to not only disrupt the daily operations of ICE detention, but also takes advantage of a fast moving news cycle that can overshadow other important stories.

While this direct local action is critical to pursuing change in our immigration enforcement practices, it must be paired with larger considerations and goals to be a truly lasting and successful movement.

Politically, while activists have always understood #AbolishICE in its full context, Democrats have shied away from endorsing the movement, while some have even continued to receive political contributions from private prison companies. Although there is some support from the progressive wing of the party, it’s far from a cohesive effort. With both the House and the Senate in play for 2018 midterms, progressive candidates should embrace #AbolishICE to achieve immigration reform goals beyond simply resisting Trump’s border wall, and activists must pressure them to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, if only to avoid cooption by ICE agents or reformists that wouldn’t address fundamental flaws in the immigration system, #AbolishICE activists must maintain a comprehensive vision of our end goals and know how to steer the conversation toward them. This starts with rejecting nationalist language used around immigration, noting the danger of aggressive immigration enforcement to all residents, and understanding the intersections of inequality and detention and other racist practices, such as how mass incarceration affects who is targeted or put at risk by ICE’s operations within jails and prisons.

At the least, our goals should be a complete transformation of how immigration enforcement is practiced. We should commit to the decriminalization of immigration, imagining a pro-immigrant support structure instead of one built upon detention and deportation, while reaffirming why America should be accepting more immigrants, not fewer. We can also directly support undocumented immigrants currently in the country by donating to organizations that offer legal and other support services; freely sharing “Know Your Rights” information; and finding ways to support your neighborhood’s defense strategy as well as your developing personal strategy for fighting ICE raids and other infringements on the rights of undocumented immigrants in your community.

Contrary to what critics of the movement claim, #AbolishICE is not a simple slogan. What started as a specific demand to change the way immigration is enforced, inspiring activists to secure local victories in their community, has become the catalyst for a wider vision around immigration policy. In this spirit, #AbolishICE is a call to action to individuals and local communities to engage in this transformation and bring about a better future for immigrants and current citizens alike.