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Abolish ICE? Yea, but…

A critique of calls for the abolition of ICE that argues that in order to be effective the abolition of ICE must be paired with the struggle for the abolition of capitalism, states, and racism.

Originally published by Libcom.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is an institution which has come under fire recently. This is a result of president Donald Trump’s immigration policies which have begun detaining children, some as young as months old infants, separate from their families. This has been amplified by audio of these children wailing scared and alone in these child internment camps. Facing public backlash as a result of this completely unfeeling policy has president Trump tried to rescue his public image by, not putting a stop to the detentions of undocumented people at the border, but instead opting to detain families of undocumented people together. What a family man our president is! ICE has been the enforcement mechanism of these policies. This has naturally lead to a call by activists and even politicians to abolish the agency.

Upset winner in the 14th congressional district of New York’s democratic primary Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for the abolition of the agency as well as democratic candidate for Michigan governor Abdul El-Sayed. On the surface this seems like a radical demand to end the oppression of undocumented people at the border. But that’s the surface. Often proposals like these, especially when they are mainstreamed and supported by politicians, don’t go as far to the root of the problem as they may claim to.

ICE is simply a mechanism of United States border enforcement that has existed for a little over ten years. Refugees and the undocumented people have suffered at the hands of US borders long before ICE even existed. Going all the way back to the Carter presidency refugees from political turmoil in Haiti have been forcibly sent back to the country. President Clinton promised to end this policy in his campaign, but ended up doing the opposite and continuing it. When, in 1990, a genuinely democratic election took place in Haiti with a popular candidate defeating a US, IMF, and World Bank backed candidate by a landslide the policy was reversed at a time when the new democratic president and his policies were attracting Haitians that had previously fled back to the country. When a US backed coup overthrew that president and created a military dictatorship the policy was returned to normal with fleeing Haitians being forcibly sent back.

During World War Two a boat with nearly a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany was turned away by the US coast guard. In the 19th century a law was passed that literally banned Chinese people from the country. When the US acquired nearly all of it’s east territory including Texas and California it wrested it from Mexico through a war of conquest called the Mexican-American war. If we were to generalize the oppression of borders beyond the United States all nation states, and their borders, have been created through establishing territory controlled by these entities that cut across organic, already existing communities.

The United States Government’s “war on terror” started almost immediately after 911 which happened two years before ICE’s founding. This War On Terror which preceded ICE’s creation lead to the direct persecution of Muslim and Arab Americans by the security state with detention and deportation. The problem clearly goes much deeper than ICE, or even Trump. The problem in fact, cuts at the very heart of the existence of the United States as an entity in the first place.

ICE obviously needs to go. It’s nothing, but a mechanism of repression which right now is at Trump’s disposal to enact his fanatically racist and xenophobic policies. However, getting rid of ICE won’t solve the problem at hand. The problem at hand is the oppression that would be immigrants to the United States face. This problem is produced by the United State’s very existence. Not only is the United States causing the political and social turmoil that creates refugees and migrants in the first place in the form of free trade deals such as NAFTA that ruin countries’ economies and ongoing wars and geopolitical struggles that destroy countries in general such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It’s existence, as well as the existence of all other nation-states, and the capitalist system in general prohibits the natural flow of populations from one place to another that has happened since mankind evolved. To understand this we have to understand the nation state as an institution.


The nation state, and thus the nations they govern, came about as a result of the development and globalization of capitalism. Local capitalists needed a sanctioned territory to rule over and exploit their workers and as a result of globalization needed a vehicle through which to compete with other capitalists internationally for power. Thus the nation state was born as a state which claimed a specific territory through the drawing of arbitrary lines. The majority of nation states were established in the first place by colonialism where capitalist states invaded territory where native people’s lived, colonized it with white settlers, and used the force of the state to marginalize and even wipe out the indigenous population.

Talk of “national security” is inherently hallow and anathema because “national security” does not mean the safety of civilians. If it did children would not be ripped from their families and undocumented refugees and migrants would not be turned away, all in it’s name. All it means is the protection of the power structure that forms the nation state and ultimately the protection of the ruling class it represents. This brings us to how this capitalist nation state weaponizes racism.

Capitalism and Racism

Racism has served many functions in capitalist society. It was created as a mechanism of exporting capitalism around the world through the process of colonialism that was mentioned earlier. Today the function of racism is to turn people of color into an easily exploitable workforce, or a surplus population that can be left to rot on the streets and in prisons and a group which can be scapegoated by people like Trump to make white workers believe that their problems, caused by their exploitation at the hands of capital, are a result of workers of color. In this sense the instability and powerlessness that white workers feel in capitalist society is blamed on Muslims carrying out terror attacks and Latino Americans sneaking over the border, leaching off of government benefits, and paradoxically also stealing the jobs of white workers from under their noses.

Abolish ICE and The Whole System

Right now undocumented immigrants and refugees are being repressed as a result of the unholy merger of the nation state, capitalism, and racism. Simply abolishing ICE will not get rid of this hydra, it existed long before ICE and if abolishing ICE is all we are willing to do will exist long after it. ICE abolition could be a radical demand which leads into a call for the abolition of capitalism, states, and racism, but has generally been employed as a fashionable activist slogan with little meaning. Alexandria Ortiz said in an interview with Jeremy Scahill that her vision of abolishing ICE is one where ICE is replaced with more competent and supposedly more humane mechanisms of national security based in the community. The plan of people such as Ms. Ortiz is to change remarkably little, to abolish ICE and in it’s place even embolden the security state with thin assurances that this time, borders, jails, detention, and standing armies will somehow work in the interests of oppressed people.

If you want the suffering of undocumented immigrant children to end then yes, ICE needs to be trashed, but so does racism, capitalism, and the nation state. A new society needs to replace these systems. This is a society with no borders, no states, and no xenophobia. This society must be organized as a global human community with no distinct social classes, no powerful/powerless dichotomy, and no oppression what so ever. Only a Libertarian Communist society can attain justice for humanity.


The Democrats: A Critical History, Lance Selfa

Free Markets?, Noam Chomsky

Against Nationalism, Anarchist Federation



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