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The Defund Hate campaign holds a protest in the Russell Rotunda to honor immigrants who died in ICE and CBP detention on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Law Enforcement, Including ICE, Perpetuates White Supremacy

It's time to defund hate and build a humane immigration system.

Gabriela VieraCynthia Garcia

Over the next few weeks, the Senate is expected to confirm Ed Gonzalez, the former elected sheriff of Texas’ Harris County, as the next Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director. In his confirmation hearing, Gonzalez committed to continuing the 287(g) program, which turns local law enforcement into a gateway to deportation and deepens collaboration between ICE and local police, despite Harris County ending this program under his leadership in 2016.

In spite of national outcry to defund law enforcement agencies and overwhelming evidence that ICE and CBP are fundamentally flawed, Sheriff Gonzalez’s testimony and President Biden’s FY 2022 budget requesting $8.4B for ICE and $16.3B for CBP make it clear that the Biden administration intends to perpetuate racial discrimination and strip immigrant communities of their safety and dignity.

We must urgently  overhaul our immigration system, starting with defunding ICE and CBP and investing in the resources that matter most to our communities. Our organizations, Detention Watch Network and United We Dream, lead the Defund Hate Campaign, a coalition committed to divesting from ICE and CBP while calling for our tax dollars to be invested in strengthening communities.

ICE and CBP are deeply embedded within the US prison industrial complex, which continues to deprive people of their liberty, upholds inhumane and abusive living conditions and perpetuates a culture of violence that has devastating and sometimes fatal consequences. The American Immigration Lawyers Association reported six deaths in CBP custody in 2021 thus far, three deaths  by Border Patrol and four deaths in ICE detention centers.

These tragedies only scratch the surface of the pain and trauma inflicted by ICE and CBP. This data does not account for the people who died after ICE intentionally released them without any form of medical support while they were severely ill or the immeasurable danger migrants are faced with after being  turned away by Border Patrol and denied their right to seek asylum and safety in the U.S. In his confirmation hearings, Gonzalez offered no plan to address these systemic abuse and human rights violations within ICE.

Our policing and incarceration system is broken beyond repair. No amount of money can change that our country’s systems of policing, including ICE and CBP, is rooted in white supremacy and white nationalism. 

The tragic events over the past year, from George Floyd to Ma’Khia Bryant, have brought unprecedented focus on how law enforcement at all levels upholds white supremacy. We cannot defund ICE and CBP without defunding the police. Stripping these institutions of funding is key to dismantling our country’s racist policing infrastructure and protecting our families, friends and communities. Programs like 278(g) allow local law enforcement and ICE to explicitly work together to advance oppression, and law enforcement and ICE share the same jails, prisons and detention centers. Government contracts allow ICE to use spaces in local jails, and many ICE detention centers were previously jails or prisons. In 2019, seven Louisiana jails were turned into privately run immigrant detention facilities after a statewide criminal justice overhaul reduced the prison population. 

President Biden’s continued funding of ICE and CBP violates the promises he made to our communities and allows white nationalism to deepen as Black and brown people in our communities continue to be disproportionately targeted, detained, deported, and killed. This is the legacy the Biden administration is choosing to chart. Sheriff Gonzalez has made it clear in his Senate confirmation hearings that his commitment is not to reforming ICE but to allowing this cycle of abuse to continue.

Since the creation of ICE in 2003, the agency’s budget and mandate have grown exponentially while continuing to inflict harm on our communities. Instead of criminalizing immigrants, our leaders must end immigration detention, cooperation between law enforcement and immigration agencies and create a system that restores humanity.

The Biden administration was given the opportunity to rebuild trust and deliver justice to the families who have been ripped apart by our criminal legal system, ICE and CBP. As the number of people in ICE detention has increased at an alarming rate since the start of the Biden administration, nearly doubling in mid-July, and as the Senate works to confirm an ICE director committed to maintaining the status quo, it is clear they have failed. In order to begin the long journey toward racial justice in this country, we must defund the systems that perpetuate violence and hate. The safety and health of our communities depend on it.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Gabriela Viera

Gabriela Viera is Advocacy Manager at Detention Watch Network.


Cynthia Garcia

Cynthia Garcia leads the Community Protection Campaigns work at United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country.

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