How ‘The Squad’ Can Stop ICE and Help the Immigrant Community (OPINION)

Jul 18, 2019
2:10 PM

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she first came to know U.S, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an intern in the late-Senator Ted Kennedy’s office.

“I was one of the only people who could speak Spanish in the office, so they put me on the immigration beat on casework,” AOC said during a February interview with Laura Stylez on New York City’s Hot 97 FM.

“As a U.S. Senate office trying to take care of our people,” AOC told Stylez, “we’d say, ‘Where’s this father? Where’s this guy? Where’s this member of the community?’ And they’d say, ‘We can’t tell you.’”

“Once you get picked up by ICE it’s a black box,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

We’ll get back to AOC in a moment because she’s actually less important to stopping ICE than House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat with a lot on his mind this week.

On Wednesday, Thompson sent a letter to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms “to hold an emergency meeting to reexamine the board’s approach to analyzing the risk environment, setting thresholds for enhanced security for certain targeted members and evaluating threat streams with law enforcement partners in member districts.”

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley need protection from militant supporters of the President of the United States. He is stirring them up into a frenzy.  If Thompson is taken seriously, before long the Squad will have a Capitol Police escort, maybe Secret Service. Who knows?  The July 16 story doesn’t say.

One thing is certain—no agency is more brazenly dangerous to people of color in America than ICE. In the white power fan fiction of the Trump presidency, ICE has many fans who are psychopaths. Goons from ICE’s Enforcement and Removals Operations division, or ERO, have become the private army of junior varsity militant bros, an armed vigilante group of federales without president operating on U.S. soil, executing the darkest bigotries of Steven Miller’s campaign of hate from the West Wing.

The Squad on ICE

The policy undercurrent that unites these particular freshman members of Congress —the Squad, all in the House, hailing from the Bronx, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Boston, respectively— is that all four want to end ICE. Of the four, Omar’s position is the most clearly articulated. On her campaign website, Omar doesn’t fuck around.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is an unreformable organization that has become increasingly militarized, brutal, and unaccountable,” is the third sentence in her immigration policy platform. The first bullet point is “Abolish ICE, and end all inhumane deportation and detention programs.”

Pressley (the most presidential of the squad imho) has tweeted and spoken of defunding ICE as a means to stop them.

From her seat on the House Budget Committee, Omar could prove to be a key ally in Pressley’s battle to starve ICE of funding, but they must coordinate closely beyond the chaos of the media cycle, in the quiet confines of the Capitol where powerful white men dominate everything about the lives, bodies, and futures of Americans of color.

Sidebar On ICE: Think about what Mick Mulvaney and the Trump administration have done to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—totally gutted it. A bureaucrat could do the same to ICE, starting with their Enforcement and Removal Operation, or ERO. The bureaucrat would have to be a squeaky clean, cunning motherfucker of a hatchet-man with a top-down mandate strong as his long game. The only way to end ICE is to investigate ICE and purge its most evil practices and villains. Remember, always that ICE was formed by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to prevent another 9/11. None of the crimes of humanity ERO commits against busboys and hotel maids help prevent another 9/11 in the least.

Tlaib says her moment of reckoning with ICE came in her district in Detroit, Michigan.

Tlaib: When ICE came, it wasn’t anything going on at the border. They were literally going through our neighborhoods, patrolling, actually having checkpoints at certain main streets, asking people for IDs. People running around our park getting held up and they say, let me see your green card. ICE completely changed my neighborhood that I grew up in into some sort of military zone.  It hasn’t made us safer. It actually put mote people in jeopardy, more people afraid to speak up, more people afraid to reach out to people like myself and others for help. It actually has hurt us more…. I don’t want to wait for an apology, because that’s what’s gonna come. Because they’re going to realize what they did was wrong. There were human rights violations. I’m tired of it.

Black Box On ICE

Prying open the black box on ICE is rarely easy, especially regarding the actions of ERO, which means Enforcement and Removal Operations, a fact I will keep repeating because abolishing ICE is actually less important than abolishing ERO. Meanwhile, the only way to stop ICE is to open the black box AOC couldn’t as an intern for the Lion of the Senate, and that Congressman Marc Pocan still cannot to this day.

On a cold morning in February, Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-2) “passing out fliers to employees as they headed into work that read in bold red type: ‘MISSING: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS FOIA REQUEST?'” Freedom of Information Act, or “FOIA,” requests are supposed to allow the public to request records from federal agencies, like ICE, which operates by its own rules. As Pocan found out, ICE did not give a fuck about his FOIA requests.

Sidebar On ICE (2): Stonewalling is ICE’s specialty. This is especially true of ERO, which stands fo… remember? That’s correct. Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE, one of two divisions within ICE, the one most-frequently compared with Gestapo in immigrant communities. I know. I know. Some people think that’s taking it too far, to compare the roundup of “undesirables”by the White House today to the one by the Nazis during the Holocaust, but I’m hearing it from abuelitas more than anyone else, so it’s an analogy definitely worth considering.

Also consider this detail from the Inspector Generals report that gives us an insight into why ICE shirks accountability at all costs: “The report found that ICE managers too often used a very informal “waiver” program to excuse deficiencies, which allowed ICE facilities to fall short of national detention center standards.”

Bills on ICE

Reo. Pocan has said that four months had passed since his office requested from ICE a list of the criminal offenses of 83 immigrants rounded up in his district in a raid last September. Incidentally, Pocan announced he was proposing legislation “to abolish ICE and transfer its legitimate functions to other government agencies.”Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, also has a bill to abolish ICE.

The Squad could support either to start drawing a clearer line in the sand of who supports ICE and who within their caucuses is willing to fight the renegade agency once and for all.

Subpoenas On ICE

The two House committees with the most-direct supervision over ICE are Oversight and Homeland Security.

AOC is on the Oversight Committee, which is chaired by Congressman Elijah Cummings who, like Bennie Thompson on the Homeland Security committee, does not fuck around.

When it comes to subpoenas for longterm data on the Trump and Obama’s deportation force, the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line, a public hotline for Enforcement and Removal Operations (“ERO”), which keeps records of incoming calls and agency follow up, is a good place to start.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, has an Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and an Inspector General where can also be subpoenaed for documents by the House Oversight Committee.

Without prying open the black box, there is no stopping ICE. Two House committees with subpoena power —Oversight and Homeland Security— can pry open ICE’s black box for the first time in the young agency’s history.

Omar and Pressley may prove essential allies as members of the Congressional Black Caucus. ICE has never had series enemies within the Black Caucus before. This is a new and potentially powerful development, especially considering that the essential committee chairs (Cummings and Thompson) are both in the Black Caucus, as well.

Building opposition to ICE within the Black Caucus is a huge deal, which leads us to How to change the status of people.

Make Amnesty Great Again

Communities of color create a lot of culture that white people appropriate, except in politics, where a corps of white consultants with shitty polls and shitty messages still dominate the cultural and messaging landscape. This group of political elites is convinced “amnesty” is a bad word. They are wrong. Dead wrong.
Amnesty in the Bible is not a cringe-worthy word like it is in American politics. Ronald Reagan was not afraid to fight for undocumented immigrants by asking for what is needed and calling it what it is.

“I believe in an amnesty,” said Reagan on the presidential debate stage (am ignoring other words he used back then). And it worked.

“We did legalization and three million people came out of the dark from 93 countries,” recalled Alan Simpson, former Senator from Wyoming, of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

The Obama administration never pursued amnesty, instead of pursuing a “pathway to citizenship” or “earned citizenship,” before eventually settling for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

DACA was a compromise within the paradigm of the Obama presidency’s implicit “adequate-on-crime” narrative and approach to illegal immigration. Undocumented immigrant youth have benefited, sure, but the amnesty they actually need to secure the blessings of full liberty in the United States is the banner true progressives should be waving high and clear for moderates to follow in the general election cycle.

To be clear, alignment with allies on the left around an amnesty will not undermine White House senior aide Stephen Miller’s vice grip on the immigration portfolio in the West Wing.

Melania Trump has visited immigrant internment camps on the border. Ivanka Trump publicly opposed the separation of families at the border. Tiffany Trump wore white to the most recent State of the Union address. Rupert Murdoch supports legalization.

There are so many insanely powerful allies that the immigrant rights movement is not working with yet, but the Squad can.

The Squad can do anything these women set their collective mind and values to, including stopping ICE and legalizing people.

AOC can make the call, or tweet, or slide into the DMs to engage the Trumps and others outside of the progressive bubble.

If anything, Trump is always drawn to fame, which the Squad most definitely is now, and rising with every new attack from POTUS. In fact, faster than the Washington establishment realizes, AOC is becoming as big as POTUS.

Amnesty is the topic of a phone call or meeting worth taking.


Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez is a pseudonym. The author of this piece asked to remain anonymous, and we agreed to that.