On our first day at my internship in Miami, the law firm’s human resources coordinator said that immigration law is a world of acronyms. For example, a COV through DHS – specifically USCIS – should include a COA, an NTA, and an NOH (in layman’s terms, this describes the procedure for changing the location of a migrant’s hearing). And there’s an acronym that looms over the rest, but it’s almost never mentioned at work: ICE.
The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has three subsections pertaining to immigration: CBP, which is responsible for border security; USCIS, which administers the naturalization process of all aliens; and ICE, which enforces immigration laws within the United States. ICE and USCIS facilitate the immigration tribunal system much in the same way that police and courts facilitate the criminal justice system. All three of these elements are critical to moderating immigration to the United States, but ICE deservedly has the most negative perception. It is crucial that immigration laws (like all other laws) are enforced, but there are many systemic problems with how these laws are enforced – just like how there are many systemic problems with law enforcement. This is most likely the reason ICE is almost never mentioned in the office. Another major reason ICE isn’t discussed is because the agency’s actions conflict with Catholic Legal Service’s mission. They are an organization focused on helping migrants who came to this country stay here. ICE makes the firm’s work more difficult by overloading the immigration tribunal system and making the pathway to citizenship less accessible. I don’t hate ICE (I do despise certain aspects), but my greatest grievance with it is that the immigration system – ICE especially – treats refugees and all other well-intentioned migrants as less than human.
America is a nation built on immigrants. While this truism is obviously a cliche, a lot of people take their citizenship for granted, especially white people. But I can’t let that happen to me. My parents were both refugees to this country, and they faced immense hardship to make sure that my brother and I would not live a life underneath totalitarianism and religious persecution like they did in the Soviet Union. I also connect this very recent migration to the historical migration and persecution of my people–the Jewish people–in order to conceptualize the humanity of immigration. And while ICE may be a government agency incapable of feeling empathy, it has to do much more to consider the humanity of every person individually and collectively affected by its decisions.
It’s fitting that the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ICE because many of the people who are fed through the immigration system feel crushed as a result of its harsh actions and cold demeanor. This is especially true for children, who are punished for being part of a situation they had not control over. ICE is an institution that performs a necessary function, but that does not absolve the agency of guilt for its inhumane actions. While past wrongdoings cannot be undone, moving forward the United States must instill into ICE and the entire DHS the sense of humanity and empathy that every human who attempts to naturalize – regardless of legality – deserves.