Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a high public profile thanks to the debate over immigration in the United States, and that means it’s been eyed carefully by people on all ends of the political spectrum for missteps. Some of those missteps have been large indeed, raising concerns about whether it’s time to clean house at ICE along with implementing serious immigration reform in the United States.
Seth Freed Wessler at Colorlines recently noted a banner week for ICE as the organization made the news several times for questionable practices. In Arizona, ICE apparently coached prosecutors in infamous Maricopa County on making slam-dunk cases for deportation, while a newly-released study showed that the majority of people placed on immigration holds had no prior criminal record, a direct refutation of the claim that ICE and the Obama Administration are focusing on criminals. To add insult to injury, leaked records revealed a systematic method for increasing deportations at all costs, rather than sticking to stated priorities.
The CEO of the largest private prison company in the U.S. says he’s not worried about immigration reform, and one can see why. Under the Obama Administration, detention and deportation are up, even as the administration publicly claims to be advancing programs like the DREAM Act to create a path to citizenship for immigrant youth. The current state of U.S. immigration policy is trending more draconian, with fewer paths to legal citizenship or residence, and more barriers for people who want to be in the country legally.
Private prisons are an especially profitable industry when it comes to immigrant detention, because there’s a constant demand, and limited oversight. Thanks to loopholes in the law, inmates can be detained for months or years without charges or a trial, and in some cases, they are legal residents of the United States who were swept up in immigration enforcement sweeps. Some lack competence to stand trial at all; inmates may have severe mental illnesses or cognitive impairments that make it impossible to understand what is going on, and lacking the legal right to representation, they can be deported by default.
While ICE is being given more power, and growing extremely rapidly, it may not merit the trust put it in by the government. Corruption is a growing problem at the border, where ICE agents have been accused of human trafficking and drug smuggling. INCITE! also notes a disturbing increase in violence at the border perpetrated by ICE agents, who have also been accused of rape and abuse within the immigration detention system in the U.S.
The United States counts on law enforcement officers to act with integrity, and yet ICE is being allowed to engage in human rights violations as well as corruption because the agency is growing so aggressively that it’s difficult to monitor. Furthermore, ICE justifies an existence slightly beyond legal supervision by arguing that it serves a critical function, and oversight could hinder its primary mission of keeping U.S. borders safe. Without that sorely needed supervision, immigrants are vulnerable to a system where they lack full legal protections and the watchful eyes of people concerned for their welfare.
Photo credit: Nevele Otseog