"How many more lives must ICE ruin before action is taken?"
That urgent question was posed late Monday by the advocacy coalition Families Belong Together following news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement—which progressives have characterized as a "rogue agency" that must be abolished—has deported hundreds of people since President Joe Biden took office last month, including a 27-year-old woman who witnessed the 2019 mass shooting targeting Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
"It's callous but not surprising that ICE kicked off Black History Month today by deporting Black immigrants, inflicting pain and trauma on Black families seeking safety."
—Guerline Jozef, Haitian Bridge Alliance
The flurry of deportations over the past several days came after a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas last week temporarily blocked implementation of Biden's 100-day deportation moratorium, a ban that could have prevented some—though, given its limitations, likely not all—of the latest removals.
"ICE and CBP carried out unimaginable cruelty at Trump's direction," tweeted former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. "Now they're defying President Biden's order to halt deportations—even though they have discretion to not schedule them. President Biden must get these agencies under control immediately."
Those deported by ICE in recent days, according to the Associated Press, include 15 people to Jamaica and 269 people to Guatemala and Honduras. In response to the deportation of Haitian asylum seekers on Monday, Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance said in a statement that "this immigration deportation system is cruel and inhumane."
"It's callous but not surprising that ICE kicked off Black History Month today by deporting Black immigrants, inflicting pain and trauma on Black families seeking safety," said Jozef.
Don’t. Look. Away.
We can’t trust ICE and CBP, even if their boss is a Democratic.
“Hundreds deported under Biden, including witness to massacre” https://t.co/rCCweNjVhg
— Erika Andiola (@ErikaAndiola) February 2, 2021
That the U.S. deportation machine has continued to operate as if the viciously xenophobic former president, Donald Trump, were still in office was viewed as a testament to how much work Biden must do to fulfill his vow to secure a more humane immigration system.
"Promises have been made, and we demand that they are kept. President Biden must instruct ICE to honor its own moratorium on deportations and expand its scope, no exceptions."
—Patrice Lawrence, UndocuBlack Network
"Promises have been made, and we demand that they are kept," said Patrice Lawrence, co-director of the UndocuBlack Network. "President Biden must instruct ICE to honor its own moratorium on deportations and expand its scope, no exceptions."
Late Tuesday afternoon, Biden is expected to sign a trio of immigration-related executive orders aimed at rolling back the brutal policies of his predecessor and reuniting immigrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration's so-called "zero tolerance" policy.
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"The three orders help satisfy promises that Mr. Biden made on the campaign trail to reverse Mr. Trump's immigration agenda. But they also underscore the difficulty that the new president faces in unraveling scores of individual policies and regulations," the New York Times reported Tuesday. "Senior administration officials said Monday night that most of Mr. Biden's directives on Tuesday would not make immediate changes. Rather, they are intended to give officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the State Department time to evaluate how best to undo the policies."
Potentially making matters even more difficult for Biden are last-minute labor agreements signed by Trump homeland security official Ken Cuccinelli that, according to a whistleblower complaint filed Monday, aim to stop the Biden administration from making changes to deportation policy.
The Times reported Monday that Cuccinelli "sought to constrain the Biden administration's immigration agenda by agreeing to hand policy controls to the pro-Trump union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
"One clause in the contract requires homeland security leaders to obtain 'prior affirmative consent' in writing from the union on changes to policies and functions affecting agents," the Times reported. "It also appears to allow the ICE union to argue that it can reject changes such as Mr. Biden's recent order to focus on violent criminals and not prioritize other undocumented immigrants."
"Under a federal law," the Times noted, "an agency head has 30 days to cancel such an agreement once it is signed, after which it goes into effect."
David Seide, an attorney representing the whistleblower, called the agreements a "shocking" abuse of authority by Cuccinelli.
"When the evidence is collected—the agreements' last-second timing, their outsized conveyance of power and benefits, their purported invulnerability, and Mr. Cuccinelli's extraordinary involvement—it is clear that they are another example of the prior administration's effort in its waning hours to cement a legacy at taxpayer expense," said Seide.
Federal law says the agency has 30 days to cancel such an agreement. But the union could likely appeal such a rejection to the Labor Relations Authority. The agreements purport to "irrevocably" block challenging anything about the new concessions for the next eight years.
— Zolan Kanno-Youngs (@KannoYoungs) February 1, 2021
In an open letter (pdf) published Monday, a coalition of immigrant rights groups including United We Dream and the Haitian Bridge Alliance called on the Biden administration to "step in now to stop" additional deportations "before it is too late."
"Weeks into the new administration, families and immigrant communities are still living in fear of a knock on the door or a phone call from their loved one telling them they are on a flight back into harm's way," the letter reads. "The administration's failure to hold its officers accountable is continuing and exacerbating the disruption that detentions and deportations create in communities and families, undermining any efforts the administration might take to rebuild trust with communities."
"This has to stop," the groups continued. "Affirmative, meaningful steps need to be taken now to make sure that every single ICE and CBP officer understands it's a new day, and that they will be held accountable for continuing the cruelty of prior administrations."