The word means “to pull up by the roots.” It’s from the Latin eradicatus, the past participle of the Latin verb eradicare. So literally, “root.” The word “radish” comes from the same.

Why the word choice then? Because it’s important that we not just shut down the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). We can’t just mow it over and expect it not to grow back.

Given the reputation ICE has earned — it’s regularly compared to fascist organizations like the SS and the Gestapo — it’s not enough just to close its doors. It has to be rooted out. Arguing that ICE isn’t really operating at the level of the Gestapo or the SS may be accurate, but it misses the point. We must never accept the presence of an agency that operates at any level which invites constant comparison to such reprehensible forces. We must never accept an agency which employs their tactics: Separating parents from children, lying to families (including actually telling parents they’re taking children away to bathe them), seizing and collecting mountains of personal items, randomly searching public transportation, harassing peaceful immigrants, arresting immigrant leadership under the lightest pretenses. If these actions can be excused, God forbid we ever have a “real” Gestapo. But we should draw the line hard and bright, a great distance away from that point. Sadly, many of us recognize that we’ve already crossed that line.

So we must abolish ICE, but we also can’t leave any trace of the agency or its policies, practices, and methodologies behind. Once it’s closed, all of its employees must seek jobs on their own, so there’s no indication that ICE or any of its departments have survived or have simply been transplanted into other sections of the government garden. There has to be no trace left of the agency. We owe it to the world, to our immigrants, to ourselves. As a nation that claims to be “exceptional,” we must clarify that we do not accept an agency like ICE in its sum, or even in its parts. Otherwise, we’re forever in danger of remaining suspect.

Does that sound extreme? It’s not.

ICE hasn’t existed in the United States for very long and there’s no reason to accept that its impact upon the American experiment need be enduring, nor any more storied (with horror stories) than it already is.

First, remember that ICE is still a teenager. A mere scamp in the context of American history. Much younger than many of the undocumented immigrants it arrests, who may have lived here peaceably for decades. ICE was formed via the 2002 Homeland Security Act in direct response to 9/11. When the Department of Homeland Security was established in 2003, it created the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which we now know as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.

ICE. It’s a fitting, chilling name, isn’t it?

We didn’t need ICE before 2003 and we don’t need it now. We existed without ICE for decades upon decades upon decades. We have other branches of law enforcement, which have attended to immigration-related issues and will continue to do so: Your local police force. Immigration services. U.S. Customs and Border Control. (Each these could benefit from scrutiny, too, course.) There’s no need to resurrect ICE once it’s been eradicated, nor to have it squirreled away within some shadowy corner of the Department of Homeland Security. It should simply cease to exist.

Amidst all this current attention, ICE is running a pretty serious PR campaign. ICE wants us to believe it’s instrumental in reducing sex trafficking and child exploitation. ICE promotes that it’s training vets to learn new forensic technologies. It’s even “bringing the fight to genital mutilation.” These are worthy efforts, of course. Fantastic causes. All causes, of course, which can and have been handled by other agencies. But they’re also clearly not what ICE was even rendered operable to do.

What was ICE created to do then?

Per its own website, “ICE was granted a unique combination of civil and criminal authorities to better protect national security and public safety in answer to the tragic events on 9/11.”

Given the fact that illegal immigration had been trending downwards for several years and, importantly, that illegal immigration was never tied to 9/11, you might ask yourself what arresting middle-aged men and women, who have lived here for decades, has to do with preventing another 9/11. What does ripping children from their parents at the nation’s border have to do with “keeping us safe” from another terrorist attack?

ICE brochure for advising parents who have been separated from their children by ICE or other U.S. authorities.

Beyond this questionable drift from its stated purpose, however, ICE has shown us time and time again they cannot be trusted to operate fairly and within the law. I’ve written about this at great length before, but to illustrate with just a few examples, ICE has …

  • Increased non-criminal deportations — including deporting immigrants who have lived here for decades
  • Arrested immigrants outside of court houses
  • Collaborated with hotel chains to access customer information in case those customers might be undocumented immigrants
  • Targeted immigrant leadership for arrests
  • Raided small businesses in hope of rounding up undocumented immigrants

What any of that has to do with preventing another 9/11, who knows, but it certainly does foment a culture of fear within our immigrant community.

“This isn’t a job I particularly wanted in the beginning. But I’ll tell you what, I’m enjoying it.”
Thomas Homan, Acting ICE Director

ICE doesn’t see it that way, of course.

Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan famously claimed that his job “wasn’t one he wanted,” but eventually confessed, “I’ll tell you what, I’m enjoying it.” As one ICE agent told the New Yorker, “You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.” So, too, ICE management celebrated Trump’s election as “the most exciting time to be part of ICE.” ICE agents feel liberated now to do what they believe they were intended to do.

Well, if ripping babies from their mothers is what ICE was intended to do, then we need to prevent them from doing what they were intended to do. If stalking mothers and sex workers at court houses in order to arrest them is what ICE was intended to do, then we need to put an end to that, too. If arresting parents who have lived here peaceably for decades is what ICE was intended to do, then we need to shut ICE down. Forever.

To those who say, “They’re just carrying out the law” — aside from that sounding awfully, scarily familiar — all punishments are not justified by “the law.” And we know from our history of slavery that our own laws can be dead wrong. We once not only punished slaves (often in gruesome fashion) for escaping their owners, we also charged and punished anyone who aided them in their escape or prevented their capture.

Again, however, I’d return to the simple fact that we didn’t need ICE to enforce the law at all until 2003. We don’t need it to now, either.

Won’t ICE employees be affected by such a shutdown? Yes, they will. Some 20,000 of them. However, if we’re to show we’re serious about reforming our immigration policy, we must ensure every single employee within the agency loses his or her job. If that seems harsh, it’s a small price to pay in comparison to the lives of all those frightened and impoverished people ICE has been crushing with new-found alacrity. Certainly, we would hope for every single agent to return to the work force. (Except, of course, for those who should be jailed: for sexual abuse, for physically assaulting children, for identity theft, for destroying evidence of sexual abuse and deaths in custody.) We would hope those agents be productive members of society. Some of them may even still find employment within law enforcement. Others should be kept as far away from law enforcement as possible. Putting those employees through some brief discomfort while they look for work, however, is nothing compared to the damage ICE has done to its own reputation — to our own reputation as a people — by hunting down undocumented immigrants like prey, by arresting immigrants who have lived here as model citizens for decades, by scrutinizing immigrant citizens in an attempt to delegitimize their status, and, of course, by separating children from their families.

If this solution sounds dramatic, consider: Experts suggest that ICE is already guilty of cultivating generational trauma of the scale you can witness among Jewish families, which survived the Holocaust. Yet ICE maintains and encourages a culture that does not understand the long-term, systemic impact of the deeply damaging and terroristic actions it’s perpetrating.

That’s a lot to make up for. If we simply cut down or transplant ICE, it changes nothing. That’s why “eradicate” is the right word.

Clear it out by the roots. Salt the earth to prevent regrowth.

Sometimes protesting ICE’s actions may seem increasingly futile. How many voices can unite, repeatedly, and still go unheard? How do we begin even to slow this unshackled agency down? (Aside from physically blocking ICE from doing their jobs?) Well, all is not yet lost.

Have you wondered how ICE’s Acting Director Thomas Homan sleeps at night? Perhaps the job has been taking a toll: He recently announced he’s stepping down from his position at the end of the year. Come November, we must unite — regardless of our political affiliations — to vote in a Congress which will ensure ICE joins Homan in his departure and closes its doors forever.