Let us go back, as we must, to the Beginning.
It was March 1, 2003, 50 Cent’s single “In da Club” just reached the top of the charts. Daredevil, the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Garner vehicle no one asked for, was wrapping up its box office run at #1. Aaron Sorkin was still writing episodes of The West Wing.
The United States was less than three weeks away from launching “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
As part of the massive expansion of the national security apparatus (and the enhanced police state powers of a combined governmental-military-industrial nexus) following 9/11, The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency was brought into being.
ICE is now 17 years old, older than many of the children ICE has held in cages. One must ask the fundamental question: Why does ICE exist?
The current activities of this agency seem far-removed from the original foci of engaging in counterterrorism and handling “threats to our national security,” especially as understood in the context of the times in which it was created.
Now, ICE could best be described as a tool of a lawless Administration, an ungloved fist thrown at whoever the Trump Clique considers an enemy-of-the-state (which appears to be an over-growing list). ICE’s own numbers, reported upon by the Brennan Center, reveal that “the number of ICE arrests has increased, rising 42 percent between 2016 and 2017.” U.S. citizens are being detained, trapped in a legal and administrative limbo and, in many cases, for extended periods of time. Legal residents are being arrested by ICE over old misdemeanors. And, as is typical in ethnostates, racial and ethnic minority communities, our neighbors, are being targeted. ICE’s tactics include kidnappings, of adults as well as children (see also: forced family separation). These actions have caused extreme hardships for the families impacted, financial as well as emotional.
Who is the real threat to our national security?
The Howard County detention center can and should be closed. There is no question that its presence represents a moral blight in our midst. And it is critical to consider the human impact on all those who are held in this facility.
As long as this corrupt system allows the existence of ICE, and provides this agency with the ability to shift the people they hold from one facility to another, often exercising police powers or collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to work-around regulations that limit their scope of authority, then one must also ask the question: If we oppose what ICE is doing, what is the best expenditure of our time, energy, and resources directed at ending it?
Yes, it would feel good to shut down the Howard County detention center. Yes, the people who are calling for that are overwhelmingly honorable and well-intentioned members of our community. Yes, our public officials should sit down and listen to those who are advocating for the cancellation of the contract. And yes, shutting the center down would be a good thing to do.
But it cannot stop there.
How long-lived would that closure catharsis be once it was realized that the people held there would be shipped off to another locale where it is altogether possible they would face even worse treatment and/or even more challenging living conditions? As long as the agency exists, given oxygen by an inhumane system, closing down one detention center as an “ICE prison” would be a minor and (from the perspective of those held there) perhaps Pyrrhic victory.
While I stand in support of the principles articulated by those who want to terminate the Howard County - ICE contract, I believe a more effective strategy would be to go after more than a single TIE fighter and focus on the Death Star itself. ICE should be abolished. That approach offers the best prospect for a long-term and far-ranging solution to the bigger problem, which is not a single building access issue but the very existence of ICE and the organizations, individuals, and mindsets that allow ICE to terrorize local communities.