In April, Trump administration Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned, reportedly under pressure from critics. Nielsen was an individual who was particularly hostile when it came to asylum seekers and immigrants. She helped implement and then defend the controversial policy of family separation in the summer of 2018. However, one report suggested that she resigned because she was not harsh enough on immigrants and refused to reinstate the family separation policy. And yet another report stated that Stephen Miller, whose extremely troubling views on immigration and race have been well documented, was involved in her resignation.
The Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump’s administration was already fraught with human rights abuses in the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers. However, it now appears ready to become even more hostile. One of Homeland Security’s major agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been particularly problematic. Though many immigrant rights groups warned about the abuses of ICE under the Bush and Obama administrations, they have, by many accounts, become even more authoritarian under Trump. In addition to being willing to detain and deport individuals who have no criminal background, they have also sought revenge on cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries.
Many fail to remember that ICE is a relatively new agency, created in 2003. Though some of ICE’s functions were previously carried out by Immigration and Naturalization Services, they were not as authoritarian as ICE. INS had differing roles, while the primary function of ICE is deportation. It is only natural then that the individuals who decide to go into this agency would more likely have anti-immigrant views. The New Yorker tells the story of one former ICE agent who resigned in protest over what was occurring in the agency under Trump. The man stated about the agents, “The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt” for undocumented immigrants. He went on to state that ICE, “seems to be targeting the most vulnerable people, not the worst.”
Many people are not aware that Charleston County is one of four S.C. counties that has an active 287(g) agreement with ICE that, among other things, allows ICE to use space at the county’s Al Cannon Detention Center. Under the agreement, the jail served as a temporary detainment facility this spring for asylum seekers. This also opens the possibility of greater collaboration with ICE in our community. ICE also maintains a training center in Charleston County.
Many law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have been strongly opposed to 287(g)-type agreements with ICE as they can create a sense of mistrust between law enforcement and local immigrant communities.
It is vital that we in the Charleston area make sure that the county drops this agreement with a federal agency that is going increasingly rogue and is threatening our national values and basic international human rights. The agreement with ICE damages our community and is a blight on an area seeking to become more diverse and inclusive. We have a long way to go in Charleston to mend our fractured past. Having ICE agents separating families and persecuting immigrants prevents us from advancing into that better future.
Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate.