Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Demonstrators hold a rally in the Little village neighborhood calling for the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an end to family detentions on June 29, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Protests have erupted around the country recently as people voice outrage over the separation and detention of undocumented children and their parents. (Photo:  Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Abolishing ICE Isn’t Radical — It’s Rational

ICE is supposed to keep Americans safe. Instead, it's terrorizing refugees, families, and small children.

Fizz Perkal

 by OtherWords

As someone who was born and raised in the border state of New Mexico, I’m very familiar with political speak about immigrants and the border, especially when it comes to talking about safety.

After 9/11, concerns about safety led to the passing of the Homeland Security Act, which created a new cabinet department as well as a new law enforcement agency: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. ICE was given a never-before-seen level of criminal and civil authority — in theory, to keep Americans safe.

It’s now the largest investigative branch of the Homeland Security department. Unlike other law enforcement agencies like the FBI or DEA, ICE doesn’t answer to the Department of Justice, which for decades has at least paid lip service to due process.

Far from being a law enforcement agency, ICE has become the closest thing we have to a lawless organization.

Rather than keeping Americans safe, the organization has become a menace, wasting taxpayer money while doing tremendous violence to communities that pose no threat. From separating families to having 3-year-olds stand trial for deportation, and from staking out churches to stealing immigrants’ identities to open up fraudulent credit cards, ICE embodies cruelty.

More worrying still, people are dying in ICE custody at alarming rates.

In May, a transgender woman from Honduras named Roxsana Hernandez died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Roxsana came to the United States seeking asylum from persecution and violence in her home country.

Rather than being treated with the dignity and respect befitting all humans, and particularly those seeking asylum, she was detained by ICE and held in a freezing cold cell with the lights turned on 24 hours a day. This approach to detention is so common it has a name — the icebox, because the cells feel as cold as a freezer.

As a queer, gender non-conforming New Mexican, this hit close to home for me. Not only did Roxsana come to this country because she wanted the safety to live her life as her authentic self, but she died in Albuquerque, my hometown. She died a terrifying and lonely death due to complications of pneumonia, likely caused by the frigid conditions of her detention.

I have to say: Her death certainly doesn’t make me any safer.

In another devastating case, Pablo Villavicencio, an undocumented man originally from Ecuador, was detained by ICE while he was delivering pizza to a military base in New York City. Pablo lives in New York with his wife and young children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. His detention and possible deportation certainly won’t make me, or anyone else, any safer.

ICE was created to protect the U.S. from terrorism. But it seems the biggest threats they can identify are refugees and workers supporting their families. If you ask me, ICE is the one terrorizing people.

Unfortunately, ICE has become even more aggressive in the past 18 months — and not just against people from Mexico and Central America. The number of Haitians deported rose from 300 in 2016 to 5,500 in 2017 — as if almost the entire city of Aspen, Colorado were deported. The rate of deportation for people from Somalia nearly doubled during the same time.

To what end?

At this point, ICE’s targeting of families and non-threatening individuals makes it clear that it’s beyond reform. Immigrants aren’t threats to the nation’s security — they’re people, just like you and me, who are trying to make the best of their circumstances.

We need to find better ways to make sure our communities are safe without relying on a lawless, violent organization. It can’t be that hard — we did it for centuries before the Homeland Security Act. ICE must be abolished.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Fizz Perkal

Fizz Perkal is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo