Before the recent controversies over Donald Trump’s zero tolerance and family separation policies at the U.S. border, most Americans had never heard of an agency called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Now, however, ICE is well known and quite notorious, and is being blamed for implementing Trump’s draconian immigration policies.
As a result of the bad publicity and bad feelings toward ICE on the part of the American public, nearly 20 ICE special agents have signed a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asking her to completely do away with ICE and shift all of its work to some other federal agency.
In the letter to Nielsen, the ICE investigators say that they are extremely concerned and worried that the Trump administration’s new immigration crackdown has prevented them from carrying out the other duties that ICE is responsible for.
The people who signed the letter, special agents in charge at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, believe that ICE’s controversial detention and deportation policies have made it extremely difficult for them to conduct investigations into threats to national security, organized crime, narcotics smuggling and human trafficking.
“HSI’s investigations have been perceived as targeting undocumented aliens, instead of the transnational criminal organizations that facilitate cross border crimes impacting our communities and national security,” the special agents in charge wrote in the letter.
They also wrote that “the perception of HSI’s investigative independence is unnecessarily impacted by the political nature” of ICE’s immigration enforcement. “Many jurisdictions continue to refuse to work with HSI because of a perceived linkage to the politics of civil immigration.”
Agents in the HSI division work on crimes like drug trafficking, cyber crimes and human smuggling, according to The New York Times. The agents recommended to Nielsen that the government create a second bureau just for their investigations, and another for immigration detentions and deportations.
The zero tolerance policy, which has resulted in more than 2,000 children being taken away from from their parents, has made ICE radioactive among immigration activists and an increasing number of Democrats who are calling for the agency’s abolition.
As a result the agents now believe that their proper mission is being sidelined, said Alonzo Peña, a former ICE deputy director.
Instead of “contributing to the welfare and safety of the country,” said Peña, the agents worry that HSI is “just becoming a political pawn for this administration.”
HSI is “supposed to be out there making these major cases, these big cartels that are smuggling guns, drugs, money,” Peña added. “And because of this whole immigration rhetoric — that immigrants are bad, that they’re criminals and rapists and all that — the focus is totally off mission.”