What Is ICE After Trump?

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S1: Hamid Liaises, covers immigration for BuzzFeed. He knows how serpentine the American system for migrants can be. But he says if you had to pick one agency that truly embodied the radical changes in immigration policy over the last four years, he’d pick ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement hands down.

S2: It felt like every week, every month there was something happening with ICE that became top news.

S3: I think ICE pretty quickly became the face of Trump’s immigration crackdown.

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S1: It was ICE agents who carried out family separation at the border. ICE leaders who engineered some of the largest workplace immigration raids in a decade.

S4: Hundreds of children came home Wednesday, some on the first day of school to find their parents had been taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the be of their videos of the officers who have the jackets.

S2: And there’s, you know, there’s TV crews following them during the know while they do their work.

S5: The agents would surround the perimeter of the plant, then move in. They would check for proof of residency from the workers. Those without it were lined up. Their hands were zip tied behind their backs and their personal possessions were put in clear plastic bags.

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S1: And unlike, say, Customs and Border Protection ICE agents, they’re everywhere.

S2: They conducted operations targeting states and cities with sanctuary laws. And when the mayors and governors of these places refused to increase their cooperation with ICE, the agents who paid for billboards with photographs of, quote unquote, wanted immigrants in the same areas.

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S1: Back when Trump first took office, the head of ICE famously said the president had taken the handcuffs off his agency, that his officers were relieved to be able to just do their jobs. The question Hamet has now is whether incoming President Biden is going to be able to put the handcuffs back on.

S3: Trump basically said it’s up to you guys who you want to arrest is up to you guys. And that basically made, you know, every nearly every undocumented immigrant a priority and allowed ICE officers to do what they wanted. And these are these communities.

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S1: I wonder if you feel like ice changed under Trump or really just sort of blossomed into its full self?

S2: Hmm, that’s a tough question. I think the work that they were doing completely changed. And it was just way more aggressive, way more in your face. And indeed, you know, they they they were no longer the agency that that they were during the Obama administration.

S1: Today on the show, whether ISIS culture has done an about face or just evolved, it’s clear Joe Biden wants to change it again.

S6: But how? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: I want to talk about how I seems and what ice does and what ice is, because it seems like those are really different things. How would you describe the public face of ice?

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S7: I think the public face of ice for for a lot of the public is, you know, rounding up undocumented immigrants and deporting them. I think that that’s, you know, in the jackets I say ice, you know, the clips of the officers picking up people and putting them into two vans and cars. I think that’s that’s the main understanding of the public advice.

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S1: And is that ISIS mission or is their mission something different?

S7: It really is interesting because it’s such a big agency and they do so many different things. The agency is split into two different parts. One part is enforcement and removal operations. These are the officers who are tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, with ensuring that undocumented immigrants show up to court for their deportation proceedings, for detaining undocumented immigrants. They feel that should be detained. And that’s what we see. The guys in the jackets. Exactly. Those are the guys, the jackets. They’re deporting people. They’re also in charge of transporting unaccompanied children between Border Patrol custody and nonprofit shelters, holding these unaccompanied children. They do that work. And then there’s a different part of the agency, which is the Homeland Security Investigations agents. And these guys are mostly focused on criminal cases. They’re really building cases alongside U.S. attorneys, with prosecutors.

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S3: They work with local criminal justice systems, local police, local sheriffs. You know, they do work that I think would surprise a lot of people. The type of work that they do, you know, they they work on really serious stuff like, you know, human trafficking, you know, smuggling, you know, big cases involving like MS 13 in communities. And these are, again, at the end of the day, for the most part, criminal criminal cases.

S1: Hamid says these two divisions, homeland security investigations or agency and enforcement and removal operations, otherwise known as S.R.O., even though they are both part of ICE, they’re not always on the same page. Do these two constituencies. Get along, it sounds like they’re doing really different things.

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S3: Yeah, they they they don’t. I mean, there is some overlap, but at the end of the day, there’s always been this tension there where the agents want to be doing this work that’s focused on these criminal cases. They don’t want to be involved for the most part and doing a lot of the immigration enforcement. And they they see themselves as different from the deportation officers. They see themselves as more serious as having to do, you know, more work and having to build, you know, real cases. But during the Trump administration, they’ve been kind of thrust into doing more immigration enforcement. And they you know, not everyone has really loved that. At one point, there is a set of agency leaders who sent a letter, an actual letter to then DHS secretary Kirsten Neilson. And they said that they want to be split off from this because the politics were just getting to a point where people were throwing them in with the agency is becoming too toxic and they just need a new start. And they think that this is probably the best way forward for ASIC to continue to have relationships with local police and local sheriffs as to split them off from the deportation officers and move forward from there.

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S1: So that’s interesting because we’re talking about an agency that has. A lot of challenges with its public facing messaging, but then it seems like internally also has a lot of challenges, like one side of the organization is basically requested a divorce.

S3: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. I mean, you’re talking about an agency with thousands of people with missions that at times, you know, are pretty different. And when it comes to the Trump administration, the HHS agents started to do worksite enforcement. You know, these guys were doing these these raids where they’re focusing on companies that are employing undocumented immigrants who are underpaying them at times, allegedly. And these are criminal cases. They’re building. They’re building criminal cases. But at the same time, they are arresting hundreds of undocumented immigrants just on immigration alone and forcing them into these deportation proceedings. It was, you know, something that wasn’t really happening during the Obama administration. They were just focused on the criminal cases, not necessarily rounding up hundreds of workers and pushing them into deportation proceedings.

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S1: Under Trump. Those immigration raids got attention partly because the president himself liked to brag they were about to happen. There was a raid on a slaughterhouse in Tennessee where dozens of workers were detained and then a raid on a series of chicken processing plants in Mississippi, 680 people got arrested in just one day. I mean, when you arrest more than 600 people in a community like that, it’s I imagine it’s just sort of like a meteor crashing to Earth, like it leaves a dent.

S2: Yeah, I actually went to a town in Nebraska where there had been a similar operation. There haven’t been as many as 600 arrests, but there were a lot of arrests. I think it was over two hundred. And it’s this tiny little Nebraska town. I went there a month after the operation and, you know, you could still see it in people’s faces. They were really shocked by this, this massive operation, all these agents in the town and arresting people.

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S8: And I talked to, you know, a lot of people in that immigrant community. And, you know, they basically said that, you know, it was over there that they this was a place for families to come in to work and they had a community. But this raid basically made it so, you know, that was gone. You know, these people a whole bunch of people were detained. You know, others have been arrested and released. And there was no real hope for them to find jobs in the community. You know, they were basically saying it’s over here and we need to figure something else out. They were planning to leave their plan to leave. Yeah. They had no way to support themselves. And they were really subsisting off of donations from a local church. That’s how they were, you know, really, you know, eating every day, come into the church and getting food and then leaving. And, yeah, I had just a massive impact on this, this tiny Nebraska town.

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S1: Well, ICE had certainly become a lightning rod under President Trump, Hammond says you could see a clash coming. Some local law enforcement had been getting uncomfortable with ICE under President Obama. They’d stopped allowing ice in their jails, stopped transferring inmates into ISIS custody, and then whole municipalities started signing on. They called themselves sanctuary cities. Trump’s rhetoric just stoked these flames. And you’re talking about is like really an escalation between local governments and this particular agency. And then I guess the question for Joe Biden becomes, how do you de-escalate?

S3: Yeah, the Obama administration saw this coming. And what the Obama administration did was in twenty fourteen, they really emphasized, you know, hey, we’re going to work with you guys. We’re going to work with you, these communities. We’re going to give you the option of, you know, instead of holding somebody for far longer for us to come and get there and pick them up, we’ll allow you to just, you know, notify us when this individual is being released. And on top of that, we’re only going to be targeting these, you know, serious felons, these national security threats, these types of people. And so they really try to work with these communities. And it’s been the opposite during Trump, during Trump, it’s been you know, these communities are harboring, you know, criminals. They’re not working with us. Hey, maybe the the the leaders of these communities should be charged criminally. You know, there’s these billboards. And in places like Philadelphia, you know, with with wanted ads for immigrants who’ve been in local jail custody. So it’s it’s a completely different approach.

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S1: It’s funny listening to you, because I feel like it’s making me realize that when we fight about ice, depending who you are, you may be fighting about something different. Like if you’re a local jurisdiction, this is like a territory thing. You’re like, listen, this is my jail and I don’t want you in here. And if you’re an immigration activist, you have a very different perspective of I don’t think this person should be incarcerated at all. And what’s happened over the last few years is these allegiances between groups that may not have been aligned in the past.

S7: You know, I think at the end of the day, it’s going to be really interesting to see how Biden approaches this issue and how does he tell allies to work with jails? Do they go back to the Obama approach trying to get communities on board? And how would advocates react to that? Do they want that to happen? You know, my sense is a lot of them don’t want that. So it will be really tricky ground for for Biden to figure out how he’s going to work with jails and how ice is going to approach immigration arrests in the country.

S1: Hmm. When I think about Joe Biden’s approach and what he’ll be able to do when it comes to immigration. I can’t help thinking about the fact that I feel like the anti ice movement has really benefited from having a true enemy in the White House, someone who is acting in a way that they could bring together a bunch of different stakeholders and make the case that this isn’t working. And it really did seem to break through. Like in October, there was a presidential debate where, you know, President elect Biden was asked about immigration. And for all the talk of him wanting a third Obama term, I was struck by the fact that he really distanced himself from what happened in the Obama era, presided over record deportations as well as family detentions at the border before changing course.

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S4: So why should voters trust you with an immigration overhaul now?

S5: Because you made a mistake made to it, took too long to get it right, took too long to get it right. I’ll be president, United States, not vice president, United States.

S1: And the fact is and that was because of this movement that grew up because of Donald Trump.

S2: Yeah. I mean, he said that it took him too long to get it right, get the policy right. And they’ve said they’re going to have this moratorium on deportations for 100 days while they assess how the agency will operate moving forward. But after that, you know, they will still be involved with arresting people. They will also be deporting people. There will still be, you know, these really sticky issues. You know, again, at the end of the day, ice is still going to be working with jails. They’re still going to try to pick up people from jails and to deport them. And, you know, I think that’s where it’ll be really interesting to see how the left how the public reacts to an ice under Biden. You know, how do they want the agency to be, you know, going about the work that they do because they’re going to do the work. So will there be as much controversy? Will there be as much, you know, as many protests and outrage at what I saw during Biden as there was during Trump? My sense is that there will still be advocates who are really holding ISIS feet to the fire. And it’s going to be you know, there’s going to still continue to be cases that come up in, you know, in news reports. And it’ll be, you know, on Biden to figure out how he wants to figure this out. Is he going to, you know, really hear those calls or is he going to set a sort of, you know, the policy and move forward and, you know, this is the way it’s going to be done or how this is going to work? It still remains to be seen.

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S1: What’s the likelihood of Biden abolishing ice is zero percent?

S2: Yeah, you know, he’s zero percent. You know, this is somebody who believes in these institutions. And, you know, that was never really going to be his approach. Now, he has emphasized a need for reform. And, you know, the vice president, the vice president elect, Kamala Harris, has really been, during her time in the Senate, has really been aggressive on keeping ice, you know, accountable for four issues that have popped up. And I think she’s been really emphasizing issues in detention. You know, how the ice arrests are happening in communities. She’s really been focused on this issue. And she’s, I think, more likely to be focused on changing the way ICE operates. And I think she’ll be really key in how things go moving forward.

S9: When we come back, if ICE is here to stay, can Biden fix it?

S1: You spoke with 12 current and former ICE officials who served during the Trump administration about their experiences and their thoughts about what happens now. And I want to talk about what you learned from these people, because some of them are going to be the people who have to make this pivot once Biden takes charge.

S2: Yeah, I mean, I think I talked to one person who said that this is just the way things go. You know, ice. It’s like being on a roller coaster. You know, when it’s the Obama administration, we’re told to only arrest these people when it’s trumpet’s. Go, go, arrest more people. And we’re just going back and forth and, you know, we’re used to it. And it is what it is. I think for some people that’s the approach. For others, I think they’re really excited to see what Biden does, to bring them back into focusing their priorities on serious criminals, on national security threats.

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S10: They don’t want to be lumped in with picking up the sympathetic individual in the community. There’s those people who think that there’s no need for that within the agency and that it takes away from the, you know, the public’s trust of the agency and to be wrapped up in the politics of, you know, what’s going on, you know, in these areas and getting in fights with local law enforcement. But, you know, at the same time, there are people who feel like that there was an emphasis and over emphasis on the side of the left that had painted the agency as Nazis and that they were doing things they never did and that they were taking advantage of this moment to brand the agency as something that they weren’t. I think there’s still a lot of anger there. You know, these people acknowledge that there were real problems during this time, but that, you know, they felt like that they were just getting constantly beaten up, getting beaten up on and they’re, you know, they’re tired of it.

S1: Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve read both that ICE agents are kind of weary of Trump ism and the chaos it brought to their agency, but also that they’ve felt unleashed to do their job. Which is it or is it both? And does that reflect a division within the agency itself?

S2: I think it’s both. I mean, I think that, you know, you’re talking about thousands of people. And I think there’s always there’s going to be a variety of perspectives. But I think that during the beginning, you know, period of time there in the Trump administration, there was a sense that the leaders of the agency felt emboldened and really want to be more aggressive during the Trump administration. But for the people who work in the agency, I think the people that I spoke with there, there are a lot of them who are hoping for, you know, going back into the background for focusing on priorities, for not getting wrapped up in the politics and to kind of have some a calmer period than these last four years.

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S1: You mentioned one officer who flagged the kind of cultural change he’d seen at the agency about how officers you know, they stopped talking to lawyers before they did a raid. They would just sort of do their mission and they knew they could get away with things. And that strikes me as something that’s harder to change than, you know, bigger, broader rules, because that’s inside the people. And they’ve had for years to get used to it.

S2: Yeah, I mean, and again, I think this that really speaks to how key it’s going to be for Biden and who is going to pick to lead the agency, what mandate they have, how reform heavy are they going to be? You know, what are they going to do with officers? Are they going to train them in a new way of, you know, approaching arrests in the work that they do? Are they just simply going to go back to the Obama era and just, you know, issue a policy and say this is the way it’s going to be done and you have to do and you got to fill out these forms or they’re going to really go in and change the way ICE operates. I think we’ll find out how Biden uses this issue by who he picks to lead the agency and what they say about what they want to do to ICE. I think that’s going to be the tone setter for the administration for the next four years.

S1: The U.S. immigration system is so complex, I wonder how much changing one part of homeland security ICE will change everything else or whether it’s sort of like Jenga. You change one thing and other things can fall apart.

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S2: Yeah, I mean, I think we’re you know, until there is real serious reform and movement in Congress, we’re just going to. Be doing this between administrations, I think you get a bite and you get a tramp, you’re just going to go back and forth and back and forth. That’s that seems to be the way it’s going to be moving forward without that real structural change. And this is what we’re going to be dealing with.

S9: Hamid El-Aziz. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for having me. Hamid Ali Aziz is an immigration reporter for BuzzFeed News. And that’s the show before we go, a little request from all of us at the show, we want to know what you are doing to say good riddance to 2020. Seriously, we need your ideas here. So give us a call. Leave a voicemail two zero two eight eight eight two five eight eight. What Next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Davis, Landolina Schwartz and Mary Wilson. We’re getting a ton of help right now from Frannie Kelley. We are led by Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. You can find me when I’m not in a closet recording this at Mary’s Desk on Twitter. And instead of your normal Friday TV show, I am going to be back in this field. So stay tuned. I’ll meet you there.