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Abolishing Police Includes Abolishing ICE and Border Protection

To achieve the goal of abolishing police, we need to fight against all fronts of policing power.

Customs and Border Protection officers dressed in riot gear stand guard atop the Paso del Norte International Bridge on February 28, 2020, in Ciudad Juárez.

Part of the Series

In recent weeks, we have witnessed a historic reckoning over the meaning of policing in U.S. society. Thousands of people have collectively mourned the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many others, while demanding an end to the police violence that murdered them. Armed with riot gear, police have responded by unleashing weapons like rubber and real bullets and tear gas, which is banned in war. These police attacks against the people bolster the argument that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have reinforced these attacks.

On July 6, ICE announced it would reinstate rules prohibiting international students from enrolling in online courses. Although the COVID-19 crisis is worse than ever, compelling many universities and students to shift to online education in order to protect public health and save lives, this ICE directive targets international students for deportation and exclusion. It follows the White House’s onslaught of attacks against immigrants and migrants — the border wall, the zero tolerance border policy, the Muslim ban, the attacks on DREAMers, and on and on.

It also comes at a time of historic reckoning over the history of U.S. racism, particularly around the role of policing. Police have responded to protests against racist state violence with racist state violence deployed through rubber and real bullets and tear gas. These police attacks only bolster the argument that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished.

These assaults on noncitizens, political dissenters and Black people do not stand alone, but in fact work together and emerge from shared foundations.

Indeed, ICE and CBP have reinforced police attacks on protesters.

Their participation in police violence reminds us of the tight connections between domestic policing and immigration enforcement, and why organizers pushing to dismantle policing and defend Black lives also demand that we #AbolishICE and #AbolishCBP. The webs connecting ICE, CBP and police show that policing is not just about official police departments. Policing is a means of social control over a society defined by structural inequalities — by race, class, gender, immigration status and more. From its deep roots, policing grows multiple branches that extend in all directions, forming an entangled system of immigration, militarism and domestic state violence.

CBP, ICE and Police

CBP and ICE officers have deployed to protests, even though their internal policies declare such public assemblies “sensitive locations” where they should not intrude for immigration enforcement. (Other “sensitive locations” include hospitals and churches.) However, there remains an exception to this rule. Both agencies can use their powers of arrest for criminal law. Even though immigration and criminal law are supposed to remain distinct arenas with separate enforcement agencies, courts and jurisdictions, the actions of CBP and ICE at protests work to dissolve any such distinction.

CBP has deployed drones and helicopters to provide aerial surveillance over protests in Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago, Washington, El Paso, San Diego and Minneapolis.

Especially concerning are its drones flying over Minneapolis, 250 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, well beyond its already expansive jurisdiction 100 miles from any U.S. border. Within this bloated area, CBP regularly searches people without probable cause, since Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures” do not apply within the border zone. Its surveillance of Minneapolis protesters speaks to the expanding attacks on constitutional protections, in terms of space (beyond the 100-mile jurisdiction) and constitutional rights, including First Amendment rights to assembly and rights to privacy. This surveillance also shows an expansion of targets, as both citizens and noncitizens are being surveilled. These incursions on rights pose a grave danger not only to immigrants, but to democracy.

CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan boasted about these incursions on Twitter, as he sent officers to Washington, D.C.: “These ‘protests’ have devolved into chaos & acts of domestic terrorism…. @CBP is answering the call.” He used the label “terrorist” to delegitimize protesters and to legitimize state violence. Hundreds of CBP and ICE officers joined Washington, D.C., police to crush public assembly. They cleared the way for Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church.

While the dangers of CBP’s and ICE’s expanding powers concern everyone in the U.S., these agents still overwhelmingly target our immigrant and Latinx neighbors. On June 3, five agents tackled, subdued and held at gunpoint a Puerto Rican man attending a protest in New York City. The man’s Latinx identity suggests the agents used racial profiling to capture a person they suspected to be an immigrant. However, the agents dismissed the accusation by falsely claiming the man possessed a gun. Afterward, an ICE spokesperson asserted, ICE “has the authority to make criminal arrests.… This was not immigration related.”

That man’s U.S. citizenship gave him a modicum of protection from ICE that immigrants do not have. ICE colludes with local police to sweep up immigrant activists who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. On May 30, Phoenix police arrested, detained and transferred three DACA-mented activists to ICE custody. Because the police charged them with felonies, including rioting, ICE can now launch deportation proceedings against them.

Anyone who seeks to abolish policing should be alarmed that ICE does not have to directly patrol protesters in order to ensnare them in its net. The entanglement between police forces and immigration enforcement did not start with these Black Lives Matter protests. They have been interlocking for decades.


ICE could seize the DACA-mented activists because of longstanding laws and policies that have increasingly entangled immigration and local law enforcement — in shared policing, detention and data technologies.

For example, launched in 1996, the 287(g) program deputizes local police to enforce immigration law. A police officer can arrest a person for an immigration violation in the regular course of their duties, like while patrolling a Black Lives Matter protest.

The 287(g) program has often worked hand-in-hand with Secure Communities (S-Comm), which links local jails and prisons to federal criminal databases. Through S-Comm, ICE can ask local jails to hold an immigrant suspected of an immigration violation until its own agents can arrest, detain and deport the person.

S-Comm led to the deportations of nearly 400,000 people between 2009-2014. That the Trump administration promotes advancing the interoperability — the collusion and data sharing among federal and local enforcement agencies — at its base should alarm and mobilize us.

We need only to look to the agents policing protesters to see how this interoperability flows in both directions. ICE and CBP are there together, in force, exposing the flow not only from police to immigration agents, but also from immigration agents to police. And it is rooted not just in immigration-specific policies, like 287(g) and S-Comm, but also in criminal law.

For example, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is infamous for its mandatory minimum prison sentences that filled prisons in ways that targeted Black people. The law also targeted immigrants. It mandated deportation for any drug violation and created the “aggravated felony,” a category of deportable offense that includes minor infractions that are neither aggravated nor felonies and that applies only to immigrants. Laws like this work together with mundane law enforcement tactics like broken windows policing. Such policing has inflicted violence on Black and Brown communities and fed immigrant detention and deportation pipelines.

Solidarity to Abolish Police, ICE and CBP

The deployment of ICE and CBP to recent protests expands the power of law enforcement to subdue public assemblies. Yet it also targets solidarity, threatening deportation against immigrant activists. This targeting suggests the danger that solidarity poses to our unjust, inequitable social order and to the police that uphold it.

The calls to abolish ICE and CBP are enmeshed with the decades-long movements to abolish policing and prisons. #AbolishICE and (to a lesser extent) #AbolishCBP gained mainstream media attention in 2018 in response to Trump’s zero tolerance border policy and ensuing family separations. But these calls started with the very creation of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and CBP in 2003.

Their roots reach back even further, emerging from groundwork laid by movements to abolish institutions of state violence. Organizations like Critical Resistance have brought together criticisms of the U.S. military, police and prisons, and how such institutions target and criminalize a range of oppressed people, including Black people and immigrants, for removal from society via incarceration, deportation and hyper-aggressive policing of certain neighborhoods. Migrant justice organizations like No More Deaths have in turn acknowledged how their calls to abolish ICE and CBP are rooted in “centuries of Black abolitionist thought and organizing.”

And Black abolitionist organizing has long sought liberation for immigrants. Since its launch in 2014, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) platform has demanded ending the war on Black people, including the Black immigrants who endure anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant attacks. It thus calls for the abolition of police, prisons and immigration enforcement simultaneously.

As The Rising Majority, a coalition born out of the M4BL, stated in response to the Supreme Court decision to uphold DACA (for now): “The police are just one component of state sanctioned violence.… As we call for the defunding of police, we also unapologetically lift up the call for the abolition of ICE and CBP. Each tentacle needs to be cut off and replaced by systems of community control of health, wellness, [and] security.”

These organizers remind us that cutting off one tentacle of state violence on its own cannot achieve the future that is needed for all people to thrive. Black-led abolitionist movements and organizations, like Critical Resistance and Black Lives Matter, and immigrant justice organizations like UndocuBlack, United We Dream and Mijente together demand the simultaneous dismantling of police, ICE, CBP, military, and other institutions of state violence, as well as the ideologies of racism, imperialism, patriarchy and capitalism that undergird them. To achieve the goal of abolishing police and creating a new society where all can thrive, we need to make these connections and fight against all fronts of policing power.

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