The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has become a flashpoint for political disagreement; some Democrats have been calling for its abolition, while the House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed resolution in support of the agency. With controversy swirling around the agency’s purpose and actions, it might be useful to review the history of ICE.
In December 2002, the Homeland Security Act created ICE as part of the new Department of Homeland Security, which was intended to prevent terrorism, secure and manage the U.S. borders, enforce immigration law, maintain national cybersecurity, and respond to disasters. ICE was intended to oversee only a portion of that broad mission: detaining and removing individuals in the U.S. who had committed immigration violations. The new department was founded in the wake of 9/11; its purpose was to prevent future terrorist attacks, and it was given a broad scope to accomplish that goal. However, including immigration enforcement within the department’s scope suggested a new link between national security and immigration, which had been seen as a commerce or labor issue.
A 2003 report on ICE set a ten-year goal of 100 percent removal of any individuals that committed immigration violations. However, the size and reach of ICE have expanded considerably in the last two years. On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that increased the number of ICE agents and expanded the types of actions that could cause an individual to be subject to arrest and removal. For instance, an individual is subject to removal if he/she has been charged with a crime, has “abused” a public benefit program, has been deemed to pose a risk to public safety, or is suspected of misrepresenting him/herself in an immigration case. In the past, ICE’s power of removal was limited to immigrants that had been convicted of an aggravated felony or significant misdemeanor, entered the country without permission, had been ordered removed after January 1, 2014, or had gang-related convictions or associations. This increase in power arguably exceeds its initial purpose and has helped to make ICE the focus of both debate and concern.
Kathleen Davies is a staff writer for GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has practiced law and taught legal writing and advocacy.