ICE Agent: 'The Problem Is That Now There Are Lots of People Who Feel Free to Feel Contempt'

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

From January 22 to April 29 of this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested 41,318 people, an increase of 38 percent over the year prior.


The agency released these figures with an air of pride, apparently happy to oblige President Trump in one of the few areas his administration can demonstrate success. But although the ICE announcement emphasized “the capture of egregious and violent offenders”—implicit here, of course, is the inaccurate assertion that the Obama administration was not already embroiled in a massive deportation program—the people who are actually getting swept up often don’t fit that profile: a 35-year-old working mother of two who’d been in the country since she was 14; Iraqi Christians who fear their deportation would amount to a death sentence; teenagers on their way to school; a woman who was in court seeking a restraining order against her abusive husband, an arrest that spurred other women to rescind their requests for protective orders.

On Friday, 20 state attorneys general wrote to Trump begging the administration to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects around 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. It’s unclear if he will; a 25-year-old Dreamer who was brought to the U.S. when he was 5, for example, was arrested in March and later released on bond following a public outcry.

In a chilling piece, the New Yorker spoke to an anonymous longtime ICE agent and former Obama critic about this person’s concerns. Initially, they spoke off the record, but the agent later allowed some of the conversations to be made public as issues mounted. “We’re going to get sued,” the agent told New Yorker contributor Jonathan Blitzer. “You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.”

From the New Yorker:

“We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order—that’s out the window,” the agent told me the other day. “I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.”

Like many ice employees, the agent was a critic of President Barack Obama, whose push to standardize enforcement practice and micromanage agents, particularly during his second term, was a source of frustration at the agency. Yet with Obama gone, and the era of micromanagement over, the agent sees long-standing standards being discarded and basic protocols questioned. “I have officers who are more likely now to push back,” the agent said. “I’d never have someone say, ‘Why do I have to call an interpreter? Why don’t they speak English?’ Now I get it frequently. I get this from people who are younger. That’s one group. And I also get it from people who are ethnocentric: ‘Our way is the right way—I shouldn’t have to speak in your language. This is America.’ ” It all adds up, the agent said, “to contempt that I’ve never seen so rampant towards the aliens.”

Framing actions the agent considered problematic, like targeting children or detaining immigrants who may have paid smugglers to bring children or family members into the U.S., the agent repeatedly referenced a systemic attitude of vindictive carelessness, a nauseatingly reliable feature of the Trump era. “We’re putting more people into that overburdened system just because we can,” they said.

“There’s just this school of thought that, well, we can do what we want.”

Read the full article here, and donate to the National Immigration Law Center here.

Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.


The Real Unsharer

The Iraqi Christians who are facing deportation overwhelmingly supported Trump because they thought he was pro-Christian. Now a lot of their community members are in ICE detention and will be deported to Iraq.

While I feel sorry for their families, my sympathy is tempered by the fact that they were okay if other non-Christian families had a mother or father ripped away and sent back to a dangerous environment. It only became a problem when their family members were being sent away.