The ICE scream­ing match

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY JEH CHARLES JOHN­SON The writer was home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary from 2013 to 2017.

“Abol­ish ICE” makes for a good ral­ly­ing cry on the left. De­mand­ing the abo­li­tion of the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency also pro­vides Pres­i­dent Trump with a use­ful weapon for blud­geon­ing Democrats po­lit­i­cally. He has said as much, and a good por­tion of the Amer­i­can pub­lic will lis­ten to him.

I re­cently wrote here to con­demn the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s now-aban­doned prac­tice of sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their mi­grant par­ents. Now I write to op­pose calls to abol­ish ICE.

The re­al­ity is that abol­ish­ing ICE is not a se­ri­ous pol­icy pro­posal; it’s about as se­ri­ous as the claim that Mex­ico’s “gonna pay for the wall.”

Elec­tions have con­se­quences. Those con­se­quences are changes in pol­icy, not typ­i­cally the cre­ation or elim­i­na­tion of whole agencies. If Amer­i­cans don’t like ICE’s cur­rent en­force­ment po­lices, the pub­lic should de­mand a change in those poli­cies, or a change in the lead­ers who pro­mul­gate those poli­cies. Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans de­manded an end to the war; no one se­ri­ously de­manded that we abol­ish the en­tire De­fense Depart­ment. Ob­vi­ously, that would have com­pletely com­pro­mised na­tional se­cu­rity.

To a lesser ex­tent, the out­right abo­li­tion of ICE would com­pro­mise pub­lic safety. ICE is a lawenforcement agency. It con­sists of es­sen­tially two com­po­nents: en­force­ment and re­moval op­er­a­tions, or ERO, and home­land se­cu­rity in­ves­ti­ga­tions, or HSI, which is ded­i­cated to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of cross-bor­der crimes such as smug­gling dan­ger­ous drugs and con­tra­band, the theft of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, child pornog­ra­phy and hu­man traf­fick­ing.

Dur­ing the last three years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, when I headed the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama gave me the pol­icy di­rec­tion to fo­cus ICE’s de­por­ta­tion re­sources on re­cent bor­der crossers and those un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants con­victed of se­ri­ous crimes. We did that. In those years, the num­ber of de­por­ta­tions from the in­te­rior United States went down, but the per­cent­age of those de­ported who were se­ri­ous crim­i­nals went up. We stripped away the bar­ri­ers that ex­isted be­tween ICE and so-called sanc­tu­ary cities. By the time I left of­fice, 21 of the 25 largest ju­ris­dic­tions that had re­fused to com­ply with ICE de­tain­ers — writ­ten re­quests to de­lay the re­lease of peo­ple ar­rested by lo­cal law en­force­ment — had sig­naled a will­ing­ness to work with ICE again in pur­suit of the most dan­ger­ous un­doc­u­mented crim­i­nals.

As we at Home­land Se­cu­rity asked ICE to fo­cus more on crim­i­nals, we heard pleas from many in the en­force­ment and re­moval op­er­a­tions work­force whose pay had been capped at an ar­bi­trary ceil­ing; we put them on the same pay scale with their lawenforcement peers. All this was a good step in the di­rec­tion of pub­lic safety, and it was good for morale. In 2016, my fi­nal year in of­fice, the morale within ICE’s 20,000-per­son work­force in­creased 7 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual Fed­eral Em­ployee View­point Sur­vey.

Mean­while, I con­stantly re­minded ICE lead­er­ship that con­tro­ver­sial, high-pro­file cases of fa­thers torn from their fam­i­lies and stu­dents pulled from their schools for de­por­ta­tion would turn ICE into a pariah in the very com­mu­ni­ties where its agents must work, and would threaten to un­der­mine ICE’s larger pub­lic-safety mis­sion. I re­gret to watch that hap­pen­ing now, as ICE is vil­i­fied across the coun­try and sanc­tu­ary cities are em­bold­ened to pro­claim them­selves as such. My thoughts are with the hard-work­ing men and women of the agency caught in the mid­dle of this po­lit­i­cal firestorm.

Calls to abol­ish ICE only serve to sow even greater di­vi­sion in the Amer­i­can pub­lic and in its po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, dam­ag­ing any re­main­ing prospect of bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion re­form. This is one of the things Amer­i­cans hate about Wash­ing­ton — that pol­i­tics has be­come the end, not the means. Most Amer­i­cans — whether in Laredo, Tex., or Queens, N.Y. — do not em­brace the emo­tional and ab­so­lutist views of im­mi­gra­tion on the ex­treme right or on the ex­treme left. They sim­ply want to se­cure the coun­try’s bor­ders, to elim­i­nate the in­ef­fi­cien­cies in the sys­tem and to treat fairly the un­doc­u­mented peo­ple who were brought here as chil­dren and have com­mit­ted no se­ri­ous crimes.

None of these in­ter­ests is be­ing served in Wash­ing­ton right now. It’s just a scream­ing match. The Amer­i­can pub­lic must de­mand more of its lead­ers and those who seek that honor. In a democ­racy, gov­ern­ing re­quires com­pro­mise, com­pro­mise re­quires the ac­cep­tance of po­lit­i­cal risk, and po­lit­i­cal risk re­quires po­lit­i­cal courage. We must hope that san­ity, and a lit­tle courage, some­day, some­how prevail in Wash­ing­ton.

JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

Pro­test­ers rally over im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy out­side the Jus­tice Depart­ment in Wash­ing­ton on June 30.

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