Opinion: Abolish ICE? How About Open Borders?

Jay Hauser argues that open borders and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement can lead to a more just immigration system (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Jay Hauser argues that open borders and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement can lead to a more just immigration system (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

By Jay Hauser, Columnist

From 1933 to 2003, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service was responsible for the internal enforcement of immigration laws, protection of borders, customs law enforcement, and naturalization services. In 2003, ICE was created as a post-9/11 anti-terrorism program. The thought was that a specialized internal immigration enforcement agency would better prevent terrorism by preemptively deporting terrorists illegally residing in the United States. Yet, instead of an agency devoted to immigration enforcement with an eye towards preventing terrorism, the Bush administration created a broad deportation force that, in enforcing immigration law, acts in contradiction to its original priority by creating a disincentive for people living in close quarters with a violent individual to “say something” if they “see something.” After all, why would someone risk their deportation if there is potential that they are wrong about their suspicions?

This contradictory relationship between mandate and mission, along with the disruptive nature ICE has on communities, its cruel and constitutionally dubious tactics, and its lack of accountability call for the abolition of ICE. But the abolition of ICE is not enough to address the underlying problems inherent in the illegality of border crossings and overstaying one’s visa with regards to post-colonial injustice, the prevention of crime and violence, and the interaction between the two. To solve these problems, we should open up our borders, legalizing all forms of immigration (with obvious exceptions for known risks).

People cross the border illegally to seek out better economic prospects and flee violence, risking punishment from those who created the income inequalities and violence in the first place. Global North countries like the United States, through a centuries-long process of colonialism, imperialism, and snowballed economic advantage in an era of globalized competition, have deprived countries in the Global South of any competitive advantage other than low-paying cheap labor and economically unreliable natural resource abundance. The poverty and lack of success in the mainstream global marketplace leads to the creation of a violent black market due to the need for economic attainment inherent in survival. Those without access to the black market or those who choose not to participate are left with no other option but to immigrate to a country with better economic prospects and lower levels of violence (such as the United States of America). Yet, they are often locked out of the legal process due to intolerably long waiting periods for visas and left with no choice but to illegally cross borders or overstay visas, violating the laws of the country that, despite being the cause of their woes, could potentially be their refuge. Those of us in the Global North occupy a position of privilege over others and have a human duty to do whatever we can to alleviate the harms we have caused. Legalizing their sojourns is a good start.

At the same time, the illegality of immigration contributes to crime and violence in a manner that cannot be solved by abolishing ICE. For one, “coyotes,” as providers of an illegal service, can (and do) rape, abuse, and extort without consequence. Those utilizing their services cannot report their violence without risking self-incrimination. Since their service’s value comes from the illegal nature of the border crossing, only by legalizing border crossings can we render their services unnecessary. At the same time, legalization, similar to the ever-controversial “sanctuary city,” would lower crime in communities within the United States by allowing immigrants to interact with, assist, and develop a mutual trust with law enforcement officers without fear of deportation. This idea would work better without immigration as a crime than simply without ICE. Due to Section 287(g) of the INS-era Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, police departments are allowed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to help enforce illegal immigration laws. This would continue to propagate a system similar to that of “sanctuary cities,” where local law enforcement authorities choose to enforce immigration laws. Merely replacing ICE would compel local authorities to act against their own enforcement interests, focusing instead on immigration law violations instead of more pressing matters. Finally, by legalizing immigration, we can prevent terrorism and international crime by giving recruits to illicit organizations another economically sound option other than joining up, preventing larger instances of crime and violence by cutting off manpower at the source.

This policy is quite controversial, so here is a response to some questions and misconceptions I foresee many readers having.

This isn’t secure at all.

Openness vs. security is a false choice. We could combine the procedures of airport security with regards to searches with the infrastructure of border patrols. Instead of having border patrol turn away or arrest illegal border crossers, they would have their persons, belongings, and backgrounds searched in a manner similar to airport security. With a mix of large-scale checkpoints to handle most entries and smaller patrols to handle entries at uncommon locations, we could create a system that has fewer holes and security risks than the current border patrol. We could also speed up the process by investing more money in immigrant visa application processing and removing the nation-based quotas that create the obscenely long wait times that lead to illegal immigration.

But immigration will cause my wages to decrease, make me lose my job, and depress the economy.

Probably not. In the past, the reason why employers preferred undocumented immigrant labor is because it as cheaper. Due to their status, undocumented immigrants lack legal recourse in response to abuse and could not organize, as they were unable to come forward without risking deportation and could be threatened into subservience by their employers. That’s why they made such good strike-breakers. They could be hired in response to union organization and demands for higher wages and protections. In fact, their illegal status weakens the position of labor in relation to management. By allowing them to come forward and join unions without consequence, the power of organized labor increases. In addition, economies expand to fit the number of people within them. Immigrants require goods and services just like everyone else. This demand will allow for job creation to match the flow of immigrants. Like it does as our population grows, the economy will expand. Moreover, immigration matches skillsets to economies best equipped to utilize them. You’ll be fine.

But this will cause disorder.

If you are referring to things like the need for housing, do not worry. Any policy change this massive will presumably be done gradually enough to allow for the construction of housing. As for social disorder, also do not worry. Just refrain from freaking out whenever you hear a language that isn’t English. Maybe learn another language yourself. All in all, just don’t be a nationalist zealot.

But this isn’t feasible.

Not with that attitude. But yeah, you’re probably right. For now. However, talking about it would move the Overton window towards more just solutions to immigration.

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Author: Jay Hauser

Jay Hauser '19 is a political science and theatre arts double major who serves as a contributing op-ed writer for The Gettysburgian. He is a Fellow with Fielding Center for Presidential Leadership Study, and an active member of Owl and Nightingale Players and Student Musical Theatre. He has a lot of opinions and is not hesitant to share them. Follow him on Twitter at @JayCHauser to hear them in 140 characters or less.

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