A decade ago, the abolition of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) would have been a rare, perhaps unheard of, topic to be mentioned by any Democratic Party elected official or any organ of the capitalist media. The demand would only have been heard in the streets, from the movement on the ground, and from migrants and their allies.
But after the horror of seeing children separated from families at the southern border, of children in cages and all the other atrocities, the demand to abolish ICE has entered the mainstream and is being voiced by masses of people.
In addition, the call to abolish ICE is being wonderfully reinforced by the many ongoing, essential occupations and protests against ICE throughout the country.
What does the anti-ICE development mean for the migrant rights movement and how should the movement respond? What role can allies, as well as the genuine left movement, play in this new phase of the struggle? What demands can be sharpened in order to give the call to abolish ICE real teeth?
ICE and the so-called War on Terror
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was created as part of the Department of Homeland Security by then President George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, and the attack on the World Trade Center. The U.S. government used the WTC attack as a pretext to launch an unwarranted war against Iraq and to demonize people of color, especially Muslims.
Within the U.S., Homeland Security’s “war on terror” was created to launch terror on oppressed peoples and on the progressive and anti-war movements. Thus, the ICE war on migrants was created in the context of the deepening of the capitalist state’s repressive apparatus.
But such rabidly racist immigration policies didn’t start with the Trump administration. U.S. immigration policies have been racist and exploitative for over 250 years, beginning with the Page Act of 1875, which restricted Asian workers, especially women, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
President Barack Obama, portrayed widely in social media memes as a heartwarming liberal, deported more people than any other U.S. president in history. Nonetheless, under Trump, anti-immigrant views, policies and enforcement have been taken to a whole new level of racism and cruelty.
Trump is an unreconstructed, blatant white supremacist. His views and policies are fortified by the white supremacists he has brought into government, such as his appointment of Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. Sessions, even while being ridiculed by Trump because of differences related to the Russia investigation, has steadily carried out Trump’s racist anti-immigrant policies.
Impeachment is no solution. Should Trump be removed from office, he would simply be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, another rabid white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ bigot.
Trump’s extreme and dangerous war on migrants must be fought. The blatant targeting of Black and Brown immigrants certainly looks like an attempt by the administration to create a white-majority nation through a kind of “ethnic cleansing by deportation.” A racist campaign that normalizes the repressive, fascist-like tactics being employed will eventually turn against more and more people, not just those born abroad or to migrant families.
This campaign of anti-immigrant racism is meant to divide the working class at a time in history when our class needs solidarity more than ever.
Is abolishing ICE enough?
The movement to abolish ICE is widespread throughout the U.S. It comes from the hope of migrant families for some relief from the terror that is raining down on them. It comes from the suburbs, from families — of every nationality — appalled at the government’s violent behavior. It comes from the cities, from people who know that workers who deliver their food and take care of their children should not be treated this way.
The movement for migrant rights should welcome this sentiment, because any push that is a push against ICE is a push in the right direction.
Because even if the words and attitudes of people are fraught with contradictions, are patronizing or misguided; even if what is done is far from enough; even if at every pro-immigrant rally the speeches end with the admonition to “vote in November,” any push that is a push against ICE is a push in the right direction.
Any actions that separate people from the white supremacist policies emanating from Washington will be helpful and must be welcome. But that push will not be enough if all the anti-ICE energy is channeled into the November elections. The movement must not let the Democrats lead that opposition. The Democrats have shown over and over that they cannot and will not lead to help the masses. They approved, and continue to approve, the policies and wars that cause the conditions for forced migrations. They are not going to change.
But we should welcome mass opposition to ICE, and as we organize we should take the help and resources that liberals can give and that the genuine left alone cannot fund. Even when groups are funded by Democrats, we can work in a principled manner with organizations if they are bringing relief to the most vulnerable.
Build a left flank led by the workers
The left in this country is small. It has yet to build the strength to seriously challenge the liberal bourgeoisie. In other parts of the world, especially in the global south, the left has been able to carry out many serious challenges to the powers-that-be through massive actions and huge struggles. The left in some countries is not only a threat to state power; in some places the left has taken state power.
That is not the condition here in the heart of the empire. But the left movement in the U.S. has an opportunity in the current phase of the migrant rights movement.
The movement to abolish ICE is that opportunity.
The left understands that abolishing one arm of the capitalist state is never enough. But a victory to abolish ICE would be a boost to the movement. Migrant workers would feel supported and obtain some relief, even if momentary.
A victory to abolish ICE would be a huge opening against the repressive state apparatus. And if a window against racism and white supremacist opens, it behooves the left to open it wider.
The most unifying demand:
The demand to abolish ICE can be taken further by linking it to the demand to abolish the polICE
If the movement for migrant rights is to succeed, if it is to go far enough in the trajectory of struggle, it would gain power by linking to the other most important struggle today against state repression in the U.S. — and that is the struggle of the Black community against police terror.
By extension, the issue of mass incarceration is as heinous as caged children at the border. But centuries of racist ideology in the U.S. have prevented a mass multinational outcry on the imprisonment of Black and Brown people.
What would terrorize white supremacists most? Black and Brown unity in alliance with everyone else against the racist state.
To elevate the struggle to abolish ICE and the police is to build a necessary left flank to take the struggle as far as it can go. As activists are already chanting in the streets, you cannot say “police” without saying “ice.”
There would be a defining line between real fighters against racism and white supremacy and those who seek reforms rather than real change. The Democrats of capital would never vote for abolishing the polICE, as their capitalist society can’t exist without a repressive apparatus.
The burden of building this movement is not on migrants. Unless they choose so. The burden is on the broader working-class movement; it is on everyone who sees the need to fight against capitalism. It is on Latinx and Brown allies to point out that record numbers of Black immigrants are being rounded up and deported, not just Brown people.
Building this movement is the goal of the Abolish PolICE movement, which would not only demand the end of detention centers for migrants, but also organize to close all prisons.
The left movement must organize now, including through a mass nationwide discussion on the role of the police and prisons, to build and elevate class consciousness, and ultimately to challenge the existence of capitalism.
Maybe a good place start would be to support the Aug. 21 to Sept. 9 National Prison Strike in remembrance of the martyred, imprisoned Black Panther Party leader George Jackson and the heroic Attica prison rebellion.
If humanity is to go forward or even survive, the discussion and organizing to end capitalism must be elected. For white supremacist Trump is itching to take hold of power in one unprecedented, horrific manner.