ICE and Citizenship

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Around Citizenship

Jesse Beauvais, December 2018


Immigration and Customs Enforcement or “ICE” as it is commonly referred to, is a federal agency created following the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks. It is a response to the immigration of people perceived to be a threat to the United States. ICE operates as a subset division of the Department of Homeland Security which is also an agency created after 9/11. One common misconception that the general public has about ICE is that they patrol the border. They only deal with illegal immigrants who have crossed the border and are already here. The agency in charge of our border actually falls to the U.S Customs and Border Protection or often dubbed “Border Patrol”.

ICE’s mission statement as of 2018 is

“ICE’S mission is to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety.

This mission is executed through the enforcement of more than 400 federal statutes and focuses on smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating the illegal movement of people and goods” [1].

A lot of what ICE does pertain to catching illegal immigrants and detaining them for immigration court. If an immigration court has sentenced an illegal immigrant to be deported back to their country of origin, then ICE has the responsibility to conduct deportation operations and execute a safe return for the deportee. It’s important to note that ICE does not conduct border separations and, as mentioned earlier, it does not patrol the border [2].

Another task of ICE is investigating the illegal trafficking of humans and goods. Although this sounds similar to what the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations) or ATF (Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Bureau) do concerning guns and illegal goods, ICE deals more with counterfeit products coming into the country. They also deal with human trafficking and sex crimes such as child pornography. A huge part of what ICE tries to combat every day is child exploitation which as many know is a huge humanitarian crisis across the globe [3].

ICE’s most important task is investigating into potential terror suspects. ICE is the frontline of defense when it comes to combating terrorists who are trying to enter the country illegally. ICE is responsible for managing our visa program and foreign exchange student program. ICE is also a participating member in the Joint Terrorism Task Force (which means the agency along with many others share knowledge and cooperate to take down suspected terror suspects) and acts accordingly to protect the interests of national security [4]. Through the use of immigration enforcement federal agents make it increasingly more difficult for foreign nationals and terror suspects to come into the country and act on their missions.

The Current Controversy [2018]

The recent controversy with ICE goes back a couple of years and isn’t something just particular to 2018. Just recently there have been a lot of calls to abolish ICE and the practices of what it does. In particular people are worried about the separation of families at the border [5]. The irony is ICE doesn’t actually deal with border separations. Customs and Border Protection are the ones who deal with this. Although ICE cannot be charged with fault for separating families at the border, the call to abolish ICE is still there because many people want to reform the immigration process as a whole. To do they want to start with ICE. Mainly they want to reform or abolish the way deportations and catch and release programs work. Deportations mean the act of sending an immigrant back to his country of origin and catch and release programs meaning the immigrant is released into the community and is expected to wait before a hearing with a judge can commence. [6] Although ICE is clear of any wrongdoings in regard to splitting up families at the border, it is not without its own faults.          

ICE under Presidential Administrations

ICE was created under the Bush administration in 2003. Two million people were deported throughout the Bush years. This is a staggering amount and is a result of the 9/11 attacks and the changes that the new laws brought with it. This was over the course of his eight years as president. Under the Bush administration however, deportations rates were massive but the greatest oversight to this was that the people deported were never booked and no information about them was taken from them. This gave them the ability to return later. It is estimated that about 8 million people have returned to the United States although the data for this can be interpreted in many ways. [7]

The Obama Administration had a surprisingly larger number of deportations than any other president. Obama’s main focus when dealing with ICE was to deport “Felons not Families”. The Obama Administration court ordered deportations for more than 2.5 million people which does not include people who were turned away at the border. This has gotten Obama a lot of criticism from left-winged proponents who have dubbed him the “Deporter-In-Chief.” [8] Even though it seems like a drastic amount of people were deported it is because the definition for counting these statistics has changed over time so as to count less people in their statistics. Obama did a lot to make sure that families escaping violence in and around Latin America were allowed entrance to the country, while felons were to be deported. Families who had been in the United States for years but never filed for citizenship were left alone as long as they had no convictions or arrests of any kind.

The Trump administration has pledged to be inherently different than the last two presidencies. President Donald J. Trump has pledged his full support to ICE, by trying to raise more staff and proposing to increase the budget for the fiscal years to come [10]. Not only that, but Trump has vowed to be tough on enforcing immigration laws such as getting rid of catch and release programs. Trump has also showed an enormous support for border protection and ran his campaign off building a wall between Mexico and the United States. Trump’s biggest controversy comes because he has decided to raise the amount of personnel that ICE has by about 10,000 workers [10]. Within five days of taking office, Trump signed an executive order to triple the number of ICE agents that are presently working for the government. ICE currently only employs about 20,000 agents. Trump’s latest proposed agenda item has been to target birthright citizenship which he believes he can get rid of under the threat of executive order, which begs the question of what ICE will do in enforcing this vision of his. Will this affect deportations in the near future if something like this is even viable to pass in congress?

Each administration clearly had its own goals in trying to tackle the problem of immigration and enforcement and its role with ICE. The past two administrations have kept the vision of ICE primarily the same despite party lines while Trump aims to rapidly increase the presence of ICE and their mission within the country.

The Abolish ICE Movement 

The “Abolish ICE” movement is one that has just recently spearheaded out of the immigration debates. The movement largely has weight from the Democratic party which wishes to see immigration reform. Democrats like New York’s Alexandria Oscaio-Cortez have made it part of their platform to call for reform within ICE [11]. Many believe that although ICE was originally tasked to look out for potential terror suspects, it has turned into nothing more than a deportation force that works for the federal government. One thing that might be on the side of those wishing to abolish ICE, is a penned letter written to Democratic leaders from ICE agents calling for the splitting up of the ICE agency [12]. But why would ICE agents write a letter calling for their own disbandment? They don’t actually want to abolish their own agency, more so they are looking to split it up so that the organization is able to work more efficiently and focus on specific tasks rather than trying to handle everything at once [13].

On the other hand, President Trump and his Republican backers are still seeking to strengthen ICE and the work that it continues to do in the country. During his campaign, Trump was the first ever presidential candidate to receive an endorsement from ICE. Later after he was inaugurated the head of ICE is quoted saying “he’s taking the handcuffs off, we can finally do our jobs” [14]. Many believe that this can be viewed negatively for the agency to openly support a candidate in an election. However, the one thing about Trump is that he is the only president so far to make immigration a main agenda item and actually seek to reform it entirely however radical it might seem.

Whether or not you agree or disagree, it’s pretty clear that there is a loud vocal movement calling for the agency’s abolishment. However, it’s not clear whether this is just political games of promises, or an actual threat to the organization’s future as a federal agency. I believe that for one, we need a change in our immigration laws before we can expect to change ICE, because they are simply a federal agency that is enforcing the laws already written on our books. If we expect ICE to change at all, then we must demand that our elected officials look to enact improved immigration laws; ones that answer the questions of the 21st century and stand for what America believes. These new written laws should also look to balance the needs of America’s safety and security while also being a country open to all those seeking liberty, justice and freedom. What the future holds for ICE and immigration laws is still unknown and the debate may continue to go on for decades to come.


1] ICE. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Joint Terrorism Task Forces. (2018, August 08). Retrieved from

[3] Mohdin, A. (2018, July 04). What ICE actually does. Retrieved from

[4] Godfrey, E. (2018, July 11). What ‘Abolish ICE’ Actually Means. Retrieved from

[5] Jansen, B. (2018, October 29). ‘Abolish ICE’: Candidates in both parties wield this immigration campaign slogan to excite supporters. Retrieved from

[6] Buch, J. (2018, June 29). ICE Criminal Investigators Ask to Be Distanced from Detentions, Deportations in Letter to Kirstjen Nielsen. Retrieved from

[7] Miroff, N., & Sacchetti, M. (2018, February 11). Trump takes ‘shackles’ off ICE, which is slapping them on immigrants who thought they were safe. Retrieved from

[8] Goodman, C. (2018, June 11). Angry that ICE is ripping families apart? Don’t just blame Trump. Blame Clinton, Bush and Obama, too. Retrieved from

[9] Caplan-Bricker, N. (2014, April 18). Who’s the Real Deporter-In-Chief: Bush or Obama? Retrieved from

[10] Valverde, M. (2017, January 25). Updated – Trump-O-Meter: Triple ICE enforcement. Retrieved from


Further Reading

Kanstroom, D. (2010). Deportation nation: Outsiders in American history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Taylor, D. J. (2014). Tainted I.C.E.: Immigrations and customs enforcement. Laguna Nigel, Ca: DBM.

Worcester State University Fall 2022