Let’s be clear: Ice is a fairly recent development. When the George W Bush administration successfully pushed to place immigration enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it transformed decades of past practice where internal immigration policy was conducted by the justice department. The new policy sent a clear and chilling signal: immigrants should be treated as criminals and a national security threat.
The criminalization of immigrants came into stark view at Trump’s State of the Union, where Trump publicly praised an Ice officer as a “leader in the effort to defend our country” who gets “dangerous criminals off our streets”. The “dangerous criminals” that Ice in fact targets includes families and individuals who have lived in the country for decades with no criminal record.
By treating immigrants as criminals and national security threats, Ice – and CBP, also placed with DHS in 2003 – enhanced its own power and decreased oversight. The new design makes it hard to stop abuse and lawlessness, as Ice and CBP operate in the shadows, largely free from public scrutiny.