For undocumented immigrants, their allies, and lawyers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have always acted as callous enforcers of a broken immigration system. So when Donald Trump’s administration – one that’s openly hostile toward immigrants – came into office, many imagined that ICE would become much more stringent and heartless. Quickly, their worst fears were confirmed when Trump made larger numbers of undocumented immigrants – even those without criminal histories – deportable. By February, the union representing ICE and Border Patrol agents said that Trump’s executive orders on immigration had boosted “morale amongst our agents and officers.” Six months into Trump’s presidency, an ICE agent – who has worked in the department since the Clinton Administration and finds himself “disillusioned with the Trump Era” – gave the New Yorker a look into what it means for the current government to grant immigration officials free rein.
The unnamed officer said that ICE used to look at the “totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order,” but that agents no longer feel pressed to follow any of the protocols established in previous administrations. The agent also sees that other ICE officials are more likely to believe immigrants don’t deserve any rights. “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.'”
The agent first opened up to Jonathan Blitzer – a contributing writer to NewYorker.com – two months after Trump took office on the condition of anonymity. Eventually, the officer decided to publicly speak out because the Trump Administration plans to target the unaccompanied minors – most of whom are from Central America – who recently turned 18. These young immigrants have escaped violent gangs, crossed multiple borders, and risked their lives to enter the United States. Under President Obama’s administration, they were allowed to stay in the US with relatives. Now, Trump wants to take them into custody.
“I don’t see the point in it,” the agent said. “The plan is to take them back into custody, and then figure it out. I don’t understand it. We’re doing it because we can, and it bothers the hell out of me… We seem to be targeting the most vulnerable people, not the worst.”
The piece is frustrating and upsetting – both because he or she lays bare how an untethered ICE operates behind the scenes and because at times, the mystery agent makes it seem as though the agency acted compassionately before Trump. Read the entire piece here, and check out some reactions below: