ICE: An Agency Doing Far More Harm Than Good

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
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Right now, I am in the middle of deciding whether or not to adjust my news alert settings on my iPhone and turn them off completely. I want to stay in the know, aware of what is going on around me, what might impact my wife as a hospital chaplain given the craziness of the COVID-19 pandemic or what might impact our kids. But the alerts can also depress me, and leave me hopeless, like the recent one I received which led me to read an article on CNN news titled, “The Death Toll in ICE Custody is the Highest it’s Been in 15 Years.”

I could not simply swipe past this one. Why? Because the lived realities of the immigrants in ICE custody need to be shared and we need to pay attention to it — especially now, during this election year.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency was created in 2003, reinventing the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and turning it into what we now know as ICE. With over 20,000 staff members and an $8 Billion budget, the agency’s sole mission, as stated on their website, is keeping America safe “through the enforcement of more than 400 federal statutes, and focuses on smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating the illegal movement of people and trade.” But have you heard of the women speaking out about the fact that they endured hysterectomies while in ICE custody by an unlicensed doctor, which happened in America? Spend some time reading up on all the tea there; it’s heavy. Where’s the safety for those women on American soil?

What still has my jaw on the ground is that the death toll for people being detained in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is the highest it’s been since 2005, and double what it was in 2019 — at 21 deaths to date this year, and the year is not over yet.

The fact that one person died is one too many this year, or any year. I am sure COVID-19 will be the excuse, as CNN alludes to in their article: “More than a third of the people who died in ICE custody this year had tested positive for Covid-19.” It’s not the pandemic’s fault entirely, but an easy way out for our government to avoid taking full responsibility for the lives it holds in its abusive and neglectful care.

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In 2018, during the Senate hearing to confirm Trump’s pick, Ronald Vitiello, to lead ICE, now Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris asked him, “Are you aware of the perception of many about how the power and the discretion at ICE is being used to enforce the laws and do you see any parallels?” She went on to press Vitiello, asking, “Are you aware that there is a perception that ICE is administering its power in a way that is causing fear and intimidation, particularly among immigrants and specifically among immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America?”

Ronald Vitiello served as the acting director of ICE for one year; even after Senator Harris’s line of questioning, others in the Senate supported his confirmation — for an agency Senator Harris likened to the KKK due to the tactics used by our paid officials. As a Black woman, I must say, I agree with Senator Harris on this one.

In a report by the ACLU, we are offered a small glimpse into what it looks and feels like to be stuffed into the confines of a detention center, what it means for immigrant men, women, and children — people forced to be marked for some sort of political statement by our president. According to the report, they live in deplorable conditions under a roof with no enforceable standards or regulations which would give detainees rights in regard to “medical treatment, mental health care, religious services, transfers, and access to telephones, free legal services, and library materials.” It also goes on to say that “The vast majority of detainees never receive legal representation, which makes it more difficult not only to succeed in adversarial immigration proceedings but also to complain about substandard treatment.”

The news alerts I get on my phone, specifically about women and men, children and babies dying — in the care of people who are supposed to protect them — sickens me. What we need to do is defund hate by our police and ICE.

Our tax dollars are helping fund the mostly-preventable deaths, and the injustices, that thousands of immigrants face. Many of whom came to the United States (or have lived here their entire lives) to find all of the things taken from them: safety, health, justice, and freedom. The National Immigrant Justice Center reports that “ICE used more than $3 billion in taxpayer dollars to fund the detention of nearly 170,000 immigrants, detaining each person for an average of three months, and in many cases much longer.”

We have got to step up for our immigrants and fellow Americans and open our eyes to what is truly happening to human beings. It’s hateful and disgraceful. America, we can — and must — do better.

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