In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush signed legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), resulting in a complete reorganization of governmental departments. Immigration and Naturalization Services moved from the Department of Justice to the newly formed DHS and created U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2003.

In a 2003 strategic plan released by DHS titled Endgame, ICE outlined its plans up until 2012 and its ultimate goal: 100 percent removal rate of undocumented immigrants.

“We must endeavor to maintain the integrity of the immigration process and protect our homeland by ensuring that every alien who is ordered removed, and can be, departs the United States as quickly as possible and as effectively as practicable,” the plan says. “We must strive for 100% removal rate.”

By 2013, 10 years after the creation of ICE, the U.S. government spent more money on immigration enforcement than other central federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, according to a report released by the Migration Policy Institute. In the fiscal year of 2012, the government spent roughly 24 percent more for ICE than its total combined spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S Marshal Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

While ICE created an organized form of deportations and abuse, the pattern started after the 1996 immigration acts when deportations started to rapidly increase, Stevens said.

Over the last few years, ICE has faced major scrutiny after allegations of abuse, manipulation and harm, leading to the #AbolishICE movement. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of the U.S population has an “unfavorable” view of the agency, making it U.S citizens’ least favorable government agency.

In 2020 alone, several allegations of malpractice and abuse in ICE detention centers have fueled the movement to abolish ICE. One whistleblower who worked as a nurse in an immigration detention center alleged medical neglect and questionable mass hysterectomies, causing controversy in Congress.

In early February 2021, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups released allegations of coerced deportations by ICE officers. Less than a week later, The Intercept reported that ICE threatened to expose asylum-seekers to COVID-19 if detainees did not sign documents necessary to voluntarily deport themselves. The documents detainees were allegedly coerced into signing are only used in situations of voluntary deportation yet the officers forced signatures, allowing them to accelerate the deportation process and strip the detainee of their rights.  

Some of these allegations came forward after President Biden’s 100-day moratorium on deportations, except for those suspected to be involved in terrorism or espionage, or individuals who voluntarily provide a signature to be deported. The report alleges that ICE officers are physically assaulting, choking, beating and forcing detainees to give signatures for deportation.

“The [ICE] officers were telling me that I should not resist, that I had to give them my finger, and that they did not care about what happens to me,” one person testified. “I was weakened by feeling suffocated. They took my hands from underneath me and handcuffed them onto my back. They took the ink, put my right index finger on it and put it onto the paper.”

According to the Detention Watch Network, over 200 people have died in ICE custody since its conception in 2003 under President Bush.

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