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Calls to abolish ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency tasked with deportations, are growing. ICE consists of two agencies – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which investigates transnational criminal matters, and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which deports non-citizens. The calls to abolish ICE focus on the latter, the ERO deportation force.

Defenders proffer that the idea is silly, that abolition could harm public safety, or that advocates of abolition must first explain what, if anything, would replace the agency. Those reasons are not persuasive. The first ignores that federal agencies are not eternal and have been created and eliminated as our country’s priorities change. The second reason is refuted by numerous studies establishing that immigrants are less—not more—likely to be involved in criminal activity than citizens. And of great import, the third reason has not stopped Congress from similarly defunding the federal enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized medical marijuana. This example shows that Congress does not need “an actual proposal for what should replace [enforcement], or even if it should be replaced at all” before defunding enforcement that is no longer a policy priority.

This essay enters the debate by proposing a middle ground to the calls to abolish ICE. While Congress is likely to continue funding HSI agency functions, as they are understood as matters of actual public safety, Congress should defund the arrests, detentions, and deportations of millions of people just for being without status. This call, then, is to defund all functions of the ERO deportation force. By stopping short of ICE abolition, the agency could be funded when, and if, Congress creates a legitimate mandate for the agency to follow; a purpose that the agency now lacks.


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6 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Administrative Law

    • Immigration Law

    • Law Enforcement and Corrections

  • Journal title
    • NYU Review of Law & Social Change Harbinger

  • Volume
    • 43

  • Date submitted

    6 September 2022