EDITORIAL: Public calls to eliminate ICE a misdirection of anger, change

One result of public outrage over the Trump administration’s ill-conceived policy of separating immigrant families is a call to eliminate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Congressional Democrats have even offered a bill to that effect.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Adriano Espaillat of New York have introduced a bill that would create a commission to create a better immigration system and develop an agency that would replace ICE.

Improvement, perhaps outright reform, might be warranted, but that could be done within the existing agency. Blaming ICE for errant immigration policy is like blaming an accident on the car instead of the driver. And a new commission, followed by a new agency, would only expand an already bloated and expensive federal bureaucracy.

In a news release announcing the proposed legislation, Pocan stated that “the president is using ICE as a mass-deportation force to rip apart the moral fabric of our nation.”

“Sadly, President Trump has so misused ICE that the agency can no longer accomplish its goals effectively,” Pocan continued.

However, it’s reasonable to expect that the president would merely start utilizing any new agency the same way he uses ICE, with no real benefit to immigrants or to our country as a whole.

To be sure, ICE has a lot on its plate. President George W. Bush created the agency as part of the Department of Homeland Security that was formed after the Sept. 11. 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The new department assumed law enforcement functions of the Border Patrol as well as customs enforcement that formerly was managed by the U.S. Treasury.

Obviously, those duties are needed, regardless of the agency or public sentiment.

More importantly, while ICE officials usually are the first people who come in contact with undocumented immigrants and carry the highest profile of DHS departments, they don’t carry out the most onerous of Trump’s policies. ICE detains and processes the immigrants, then turns them over to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which was sending adults and children to separate detention centers, on Trump’s orders, until a federal court stopped the practice.

ICE proves its value every day by helping intercept drug and human smugglers and assisting other law enforcement agencies, in addition to its other, more mundane but equally vital functions.

Patrolling the border is only part of ICE’s duties. The agency has more than 20,000 employees working throughout the United States and nearly 50 foreign countries, helping to facilitate international trade to and from this country. At border crossings, airports and other ports of entry they check people and packages for any contraband that can include drugs, money, produce and even animals, which can be held at ICE quarantine stations until their health and safety are secured. These inspections help keep out insects, plant diseases and other pests that could threaten the health of American people and crops.

ICE is doing its job. Real reform requires redefining that job, and that requires looking at those who are making our border policies, not those who have to carry them out.