Following the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others whose names haven’t echoed across the world, the murder of George Floyd on May 25th at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department is one more in a centuries old assault on Black people under a racist, anti-Black political system. The resulting protests that are taking place in all 50 states, Washington DC, and around the world — from small towns to major cities — comprise the largest civil rights movement in modern history and include demands that seemed radical just a few weeks ago.
The calls to defund police, born out of abolitionist theories put forth by Black feminists decades ago, are gaining momentum and receiving real consideration. The Minneapolis City Council has said that it plans to dismantle its police department. Los Angeles has pledged to decrease its police budget and reinvest funds in Black and other marginalized communities. Two years ago, the demand to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gained momentum in the face of family separation at the border. Recognizing that the systems of policing and immigration enforcement are intertwined, we must show our solidarity with Black communities by joining in the calls from the Movement for Black Lives and others to defund the police. We must recognize that ICE and the police are related institutions of militarized racial terror.
White supremacy and anti-Black racism are at the root of policing and mass incarceration and are also used to enforce U.S. immigration laws. In order to justify race-based slavery, the founders of this nation espoused a theory of white supremacy, which in turn meant dehumanizing, enslaving, and then criminalizing Black people. Some of the first police forces in the U.S. were slave patrols which sought to capture people who escaped slavery. Once chattel slavery ended, the government sought to maintain their control over Black bodies and labor through Jim Crow laws and the criminal legal system. Throughout US history, the ideology of white supremacy has also underwritten immigration laws, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Until 1952, racial restrictions on citizenship were legally in place such that immigrants who sought citizenship were found ineligible by the courts, because they were not considered white.
The United States is home to both the largest prison population and the largest immigration detention system in the world, both of which disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities.
In more recent history, we have seen the rise of mass incarceration happen in tandem with the rise of the detention and deportation system. Over the last four decades, as state and local funding for education, housing, and healthcare has been slashed, police department budgets tripled while funding for immigration enforcement followed a similar trajectory, growing by 130% since 2003. ICE and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) are now the largest police force in the U.S and combined spend about $20 billion a year. These agencies are responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration laws at the border and in the interior. As the number of people in jails and prisons in the U.S. has grown exponentially, so has the number of people in immigration detention. The United States is home to the largest prison population and the largest immigration detention system in the world, both of which disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. Because the criminal legal system targets Black people by design, Black immigrants are more likely than other immigrants to be in detention and more likely to be deported.
Over the last two decades we have also seen the increased militarization of both state and local police departments, alongside ICE and CBP. Laws passed in the wake of 9/11 allowed for the transfer of military grade equipment and military training for police departments, and the shift in immigration enforcement to focus on anti-terrorism and national security. Since 9/11, immigration enforcement has taken on a distinctly violent and antagonistic approach. ICE and CBP terrorize migrants through surveillance, raids, family separation, detention, and deportation, not only at the border, but in our communities. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and the subsequent protests, ICE and CBP personnel and assets were deployed to surveil and intimidate protestors. In at least one instance, ICE agents violently targeted a protestor.
We cannot ignore how intricately ICE and CBP are tied to the militarization of police, and the criminal legal system. Nor can we ignore how our immigration laws and the enforcement of those laws are inextricably linked to anti-Black racism and white supremacy. It is time we defund police, ICE, CBP and all other systems and agencies that exist to criminalize and terrorize Black people and migrants, and instead invest in the systems that allow people to thrive and move freely within and between borders.