Why we demand the abolition of ICE

In July 2018, ICE conducted a series of raids in the DC area in supposedly “sanctuary” cities. As part of our ongoing migrant justice actions, the Metro DC DSA held four days of demonstrations outside the Washington area ICE field office. The following is adapted from one of the speeches given outside the office.

Our demands

The Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America stands in solidarity with our neighbors who have been taken from our communities, locked in cages, and are facing deportation. We want ICE out of DC and out of Fairfax County. We have three demands:

►Release everyone indiscriminately picked up during “Operation Eagle’s Shield”.

►End the billion-dollar deportation and detention industry.

►Abolish ICE. Not just reform, not just regulate, but abolish ICE.

But first, I should explain why we’re here as socialists and as people of conscience. Understand, the way the powerful prey upon the most vulnerable of us is the way they would like to treat all of us if given the opportunity. Their behavior is motivated by greed and aided by a white supremacist and capitalist system which commodifies and reduces human life.

Consider that if I were arrested here, I’d expect to get a receipt for anything taken from me and a clear way to get it back. But CBP refuses to extend the same protection given to my property to migrants’ own children. They have failed to reunite hundreds of families still. Why the different treatment? Because we were born on different sides of a line? Because I have my papers in order? No, this is proof of what we already know: the state does not value their very humanity.

Writ large, this means acts of violence committed by the state against anyone who lacks the power to oppose them. It means ICE raiding homes and workplaces, tearing apart families, and violating our communities. It means finding any excuse to send people seeking refuge from fear, violence, and death, back to that environment of fear, violence, and death. We as people of conscience find this fundamental violation of human dignity intolerable.

More than that, we as socialists also know how detention and deportation play into the power structure of a capitalist system. White supremacy, xenophobia, and the violation of human dignity are entrenched by a system that continues to enrich the wealthy by making money off the backs of the less powerful. We seek no less than the liberation of everyone victimized by this system.

Now regarding those demands…

Demand 1: Release everyone taken in Operation Eagle’s Shield

In recent weeks, ICE engaged in unprecedented and indiscriminate raids in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. These raids betray a new level of brazen callousness: they raid apartment buildings, randomly demand people’s identification, and even refuse to identify themselves as ICE agents! This is not the behavior of an agency trying to keep us safe – this is the behavior of an agency bent on fear and intimidation.

ICE acts with impunity. The raids violate people’s right to be safe in their own home. The deportation proceedings violate their right to due process. This is why we demand that everyone taken and facing deportation be released, that DC live up to its claim to be a sanctuary city, and that our neighbors are returned to the community.

Demand 2: End the deportation and detention industry

The entire business of detention and deportation is a literal business. GeoGroup and CoreCivic run the private prisons that profit off of human suffering. These contracts are incredibly lucrative, and when their profitability is directly tied to how many people get locked up, these companies’ every incentive is to buy off the right politicians to push an agenda to get anyone and everyone locked up. Deportation, detention, the carceral state, are all entrenched by this capitalist system.

It doesn’t end there. The entire system is built on the illusion that we need borders. The deportation and detention industry loves borders and walls because they divide us. Trap us. Keep us from seeing others’ humanity. Even go along with abusing and controlling people who were simply born on the other side of a line in the ground, as if that some how makes them less human. This all paves the way for exploitation.

What does this exploitation look like? It’s drawing lines on maps, declaring people’s existence a crime when they’re on the supposed wrong side, and building a police force to threaten and intimidate. It’s tearing families apart at the border, hunting people down within the borders, deporting some, locking up others, and intimidating the rest. And it’s making money every step of the way, then turning around and using this money to prevent its victims from challenging the system.

Demand 3: Abolish ICE

ICE was created in 2003, in the panicked desperation after 9/11 that also gave us the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay. ICE and the border patrol commit violence against our neighbors with impunity, justifying it by saying those they kidnap lack the right paperwork, or have a misdemeanor, or the administration changes its mind one day to the next on DACA or TPS.

They have the audacity to justify violence based on paperwork. They value database entries over human life. Everyone must know of their offenses, and these offenses should horrify anyone with moral conviction. Our neighbors don’t have the right forms in place, and for that they’re locked in cages, shipped away from their homes, families, and livelihoods, and possibly sent back to places they don’t even know or where they face persecution and death.

ICE claims it’s taking down dangerous criminals – yet the people taken in recent raids weren’t dangerous criminals, and when asked about their supposed crimes the administration repeats the same lines about not having the right papers. ICE claims it’s fighting human trafficking – yet the people raiding people’s homes and workplaces aren’t the ones fighting trafficking, but the ones enabling and engaging it by selling people over to private detention centers.

What we have to ask ourselves is how any agency could become so weaponized as a tool of fear, intimidation, and exploitation. This goes beyond any one administration: we’re just now finding out about Operation Border Resolve, a raid in January 2016 that detained 121 people under thin pretenses. Reforms and regulations fail to fix this. It’s high time to abolish ICE.

Our history

One thing we understand as socialists is that the entire system of control, from intimidation to detention to deportation, reflects a broader system of violence that transforms human beings into objects that can be bought, sold, and exploited for profits.

The United States has a long history of exploiting one class of people to enrich another. The country was founded on the backs of an enslaved labor force, and even after the thirteenth amendment, corporations and governments could continue to enslave people as long as they were classified as criminals first. So, we had a century of enslavement and exploitation, followed by a century of criminalizing the very movement and existence of people of color so that exploitation could continue. We even see it today: vagrancy and loitering laws that disproportionately target black and brown people, and everything from poultry farms in Alabama to government facilities in Virginia profiting from prison labor.

The United States also has a long history of exploitation outside our borders. We had over a century of imperialist expansion: the first colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican-American War, and more. This was followed by over a century of imperialist intervention: in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East. Yet in our country, built by illegitimate land-grabs, people have the audacity to demand others only enter in small numbers and by narrow definitions of legality. Yet in our country, constantly interfering in others, people have the audacity to shut others out from escaping violence that they, that we, helped put there.

I come from a family of immigrants. I (and I’m not alone here) have actually had people ask me why I support open borders, since my family came here the “right” way. But this idea of the good and legal immigrant versus the supposed bad one is nothing more than a way to justify discrimination based on luck, opportunity, and money, being conflated with rightness. And we know this is thinly-veiled xenophobia, since the same people pushing this narrative are now turning their attention to so-called legal immigration!

Consider also that my family is from Bangladesh, a place suffering from the effects of climate change, and which over the next century could lose a quarter of its land to floods. As with imperialism, this biggest contributors to yet the least-impacted by climate change are the wealthy nations of the world like the US. Now, they want to turn around and shut out people fleeing conditions that they helped create.

Our exploitation

Borders, immigration law, ICE, and CBP, are tools of control. But exploitation goes well beyond just the deportation machine and private prison industry. Employers can use workers’ status to intimidate them into desperation and compliance with underpaying, wage theft, harassment, or dangerous working conditions. They know their victims can’t fight back in court, and this gives employers a government-backed weapon against their workers. Just the threat of calling ICE is enough to prevent workers for standing up for fair pay and safe working conditions.

Intimidation affects everyone. When employers divide workers based on arbitrary “legal” status and go on to justify mistreatment of workers with less ability to fight back, it breaks the solidarity between all workers that is the basis of our power to protect ourselves. This attempt comes in the form of convincing one group to hate another for “taking their jobs”, scapegoating the vulnerable, and frightening people into accepting violent rule by appealing to an imagined racial or cultural unity. In the end, we get lower pay and worse benefits, and are distracted from the real cause of the misery that so many working-class Americans face.

Borders too allow corporations to turn us against one another. They threaten to move production to some place more desperate than our own. They convince us to accept less and beg them to move their factory or headquarters to our town, even getting our governments to provide generous tax breaks to siphon even more money from our communities. We must defeat this mentality of competing against one another for their attention and money. We must stand up for one another, and work together to reclaim our time, our livelihoods, our compassion, and our dignity.

Our fight

We in the DSA are determined to expose the racist and controlling lies of ICE, CBP, and all those pushing for inhumane immigration laws. We base our actions on principles of solidarity: we stand not for, but with, those under attack. We recognize that no one is free or safe while this system of detention, deportation, fear, and intimidation, continues.

We say to any person, corporation, or government institution that profits from deportation: we see the truth. You have no right to profit from the suffering of our communities, and we will keep going until we tear apart this system of racist, capitalist oppression.

And we say to our allies in this fight: our obligation is to gum up the works of the deportation and detention machine as much as possible. Whether by fifty of us outside an ICE office, ten of us disrupting a government official’s dinner, or one brave soul refusing to sit down on a flight to prevent a person from being deported. And our obligation is to keep pushing our demands: in only the last few months, our call to abolish ICE has gained national prominence, and the number of other people calling for the same keeps growing.

The rich and powerful have long been creative at finding ways to profit off of the most vulnerable. But I believe that we are even more creative at resisting these forces. And I believe that we will win.

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