Why America still needs to abolish ICE
(Oct. 14, 2020) In 2018, one of the biggest demands of immigrant rights activists was “Abolish ICE.” The rallying cry intensified in part due to the Trump administration’s border policy, which separated parents from children and horrified the world. Just a few days ago, leaked tapes of the first lady exposed her indifference toward the policy in 2018, and reminded us of the administration’s complete disdain of the humanity of people seeking asylum. Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is still targeting and detaining hundreds of thousands of people, and separating loved ones from their families and communities. And while fewer families are being ripped apart at the border, family separations are still happening.
This suggests two things: The Trump administration has become more adept at hiding its abuses, and the problem with ICE was never about any one specific policy. Indeed, a recent report has proven once again that the agency is, at its core, rotten.
In September, Congress released an alarming new report exposing both egregious conditions in ICE detention centers as well as the agency’s failure to identify and respond to abuses. Following visits to eight ICE detention facilities and interviews with more than 400 people in ICE custody, the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security reported poor physical and mental health care, failure to protect people in detention from Covid, and constrained access to legal services and information.
These findings merely add to a pattern of well-documented institutional medical neglect and abuse at ICE that proves no one is safe in its custody.
ICE is an agency that was created in part to criminalize and target immigrants for incarceration, deportation and exclusion from their communities and their families. As such, the agency’s disregard for human life is part of its very foundation, and has evolved to create a culture that enables and perpetuates human rights abuses like the ones exposed in this report.
Immigration detention is fraught with alarmingly poor conditions, a lack of accountability and a culture of violence that results in system-wide abuses. In September, whistleblower Dawn Wooten courageously spoke out about the horrifying medical care people are experiencing at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, as well as serious gynecological procedures allegedly performed on women without informed consent, including hysterectomies.
The number of people who died in ICE custody more than doubled in fiscal year 2020, which ended on Sept. 30. Twenty-one people died in 2020, the highest death toll in ICE custody in 15 years, with more than a third of those deaths related to Covid-19. More than 200 people have died in ICE custody since the agency was created, and that does not count the children who have died in facilities operated by Customs and Border Protection (CPB).
According to a 2018 report from Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, Detention Watch Network and National Immigrant Justice Center, poor medical treatment contributed to more than half the deaths reported in ICE custody between December 2015 and April 2017.
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