In the past few weeks, the conflict between protesters and law enforcement in Portland reached an impasse.
This occurred after the Trump administration ordered the deployment of federal agents to suppress the protests that were sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Protesters in Portland expressed concerns over the camouflaged federal officers, deploying force against peaceful protesters, and some accounts of abducting people off the streets without proper reason. The federal authorities in the city have been identified as a patchwork of federal law enforcement agencies, which prominently includes the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), and Immigration and Customs (ICE) officers.
One of the prominent demands of protesters in Portland and across the country is to defund police departments and use that money to better fund social services and programs. It is important to realize how overfunded and heavily armed our local police departments are, but it is equally important to recognize the same traits in federal law enforcement agencies like the ones deployed in Portland. Even though the main responsibility of these agencies is immigration processing, they have proven that they can essentially occupy a city without permission.
Not surprisingly, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by combining a number of federal agencies under a more centralized leadership resulted in agencies becoming more prone to abuse for political gains. Agents from the sub-agencies of the DHS, such as Border Patrol and ICE are the same ones operating in Portland and often already work in coordination with each other. Due to the little oversight within this massive department and how its sub-agencies are used, it has allowed for the outright misuse of them in Portland and nationwide with the terrorizing and unlawful arrests of people in immigrant communities. These current developments are just another reason why the current form of these agencies should be abolished.
When these agents aren’t occupying major US cities, they are perpetuating the detainment of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers at the border in “civil detention” facilities by ICE and Border Patrol officials. Currently, thousands of families across 140 public and private facilities in 44 states face horrible conditions that ICE’s own Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office described as, “systematically providing inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees in facilities throughout the U.S.”
In fact, the act of entering the country illegally isn’t even a criminal offense, but a civil one. The people being held in these detention centers often are not facing criminal punishment, but rather being held until the date of their court hearing to decide if they can remain in the country legally or not. The alleged purpose of these facilities is to ensure detainees show up for their hearings, but at one time this would only be the case if an individual proved themselves a threat to the community or a flight risk.
The number of individuals held in these facilities has continued to rise under the Trump administration who campaigned on a strong crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration. In order to apprehend undocumented residents, ICE officers conduct raids of places where immigrants work and live. These raids haven’t stopped in the midst of COVID-19—they have only escalated to put these already vulnerable communities in even more danger, either through being deported back to unsafe conditions in their home country or the unsafe conditions of the detention centers here. In fact, these detention centers have seen a large increase in the number of detainees diagnosed with COVID-19. It seems like it will get worse due to the inability to socially distance or quarantine positive cases away from the general population.
Department whistleblowers, like Dr. Scott Allen, have been attempting to warn about the coming outbreaks these facilities are heading for. Dr. Allen pointed out the “gaping holes” in ICE’s testing and quarantine procedures that made it a likely hotspot for the virus, during his testimony to a congressional hearing in June.
“The fact is, in the real world, use of those guidelines has been associated with failure,” Allen said.
On top of all their other current flaws and issues, an investigation found a secret Facebook group composed of 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents under the name “I’m 10-15” (10-15 being the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody”). Posts in this social media group included hateful remarks and comments aimed at asylum seekers coming to the border and laughing at claims of inhumane conditions from detainees.
University of Arizona-Tucson sociology professor Daniel Martinez, whose work deals primarily with the U.S-Mexico border, expressed concern after viewing posts from the page, “there seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”
When a government can’t be trusted to not violate the rights of its own residents, we as a society must oppose these immoral actions and institutions. There’s a number of things you can do to help the undocumented communities of our country—and part of that is simply informing yourself and others. If you hear information about or suspect an ICE raid might occur in your area, do your best to spread the word among others. Because this offense is civil and not criminal, many of these raids don’t have proper warrants to enter the homes of undocumented residents and can’t enter a home unless the owners open the door. ICE officers rely on people not understanding their rights in these situations and intimidate people into cooperating when they are under no legal obligation to. For more information regarding rights during an immigration raid, refer to the ACLU’s website.
This is far from the first time that our country has heard calls for ICE to be abolished. However, momentum around the idea started to gain more traction over the course of the Trump presidency, as Trump has outwardly expressed his contempt for those immigrating as well as undocumented residents here already. In a time where protesters have brought calls to defund the police to the front of the national discussion, now is the perfect time for us as a society to reexamine the practices and ethics of our nation’s law enforcement departments on a local and national level.