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It's time to abolish ICE.

Photo courtesy of Win McNamee/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, America learned of a whistleblower complaint alleging that immigrant women detained at a private facility had been subject to forced hysterectomies.

One woman, Pauline Binam, lives at the center of the case. Twenty-eight years after coming to the United States from Cameroon, thirty year-old Binam began experiencing menstrual pain while awaiting deportation from a privately-run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia. Medical staff at the facility told her they’d perform a minor procedure. But when Binam woke up from the anesthesia, one of her fallopian tubes had been forcibly removed. She was told she would likely have difficulty if she ever wanted to conceive more children.

Pauline Binam was not alone. Nicole Narea writes, “Multiple attorneys have since come forward alleging that their clients had been subjected to hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), vice chair of the House immigration subcommittee, said that, based on conversations with three of those attorneys, it appears that at least 17 detainees had such procedures.”

These horrific procedures are not accidents, or examples of ICE’s tendency to make life-altering mistakes. This kind of inhumane treatment of immigrants is exactly what ICE was designed for.

In 2018, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of parents who had been separated from their children by ICE. The department has made it a practice to remove children from their asylum-seeking parents, flying them across the country without cause or justification. Seven-year-old children are sitting alone in jail cells in America, charged with no crime and granted no trial.

ICE and the Trump administration would have you believe that this is the just and correct treatment of immigrants, who are inherently criminal in seeking to come to the country “illegally.” This is often a blatant lie.

After World War II, US law codified the International Refugee Convention, which dictates that anybody “physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States … irrespective of such [person’s] status, may apply for asylum.”

People apply for asylum seeking safety in the United States: they come fleeing prosecution; they come searching for a better life for their family; they come in hope of the elusive “American Dream” they’ve heard so much about.

Instead, they’re met with ICE.

Under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, people seeking asylum are forced to wait in Mexico while courts in the United States process their case. Customs and Border Patrol sent Carolina, an 18 year-old Ecuadorian woman seeking asylum, to wait for an undetermined amount of time in Mexico. Four months pregnant, Carolina was kidnapped and held for ransom. When she was finally released by her kidnappers, she did everything she could to get back to the United States, wading through our immigration system’s web of bureaucracy and begging Customs and Border Patrol once again to grant her protection.

They turned her away.

The ACLU reports: “One woman interviewed by attorneys described a CBP officer telling her she should abort her unborn child because ‘Trump didn’t want any more pregnant people here.’”

There’s a clear pattern emerging here, and it’s not that ICE is cracking down on “illegal” immigration. Women in ICE detention centers are having forced and unexplained hysterectomies; children are being separated from their mothers; pregnant asylum-seekers are being repeatedly turned away; women are being told that they should have abortions in order to be granted entry into the United States. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Despite claiming to be pro-life, the Trump administration has specifically weaponized ICE against children and pregnant women.

In radicalizing ICE, the Trump administration has more starkly exposed than ever before our immigration system’s fundamental failures. We know that ICE is a department broken beyond repair.

It’s time to abolish ICE.

For us, this looks like reshaping our immigration system and allocating the responsibilities of its ethical execution to other branches of the federal government. We must intentionally and fiercely protect those ICE has been designed to target, and reevaluate our very conception of legal immigration.

It is crucial that we look towards reforming our deeply flawed asylum system, so that women like Caroline can find the security that they were promised on American soil. Immigration Courts should not hear asylum cases, but should refer them instead to the Asylum Division. In doing this, the procedures for applying for asylum themselves must be radically reformed; seeking asylum as you flee from persecution should not be a trauma in and of itself. We must also look to strengthen the international relationships that will allow us to work to solve the humanitarian crises that so often propel immigration.

We also say unequivocally: family separation must end. We must insist on naming the sheer viciousness and cruelty of this practice; there is nothing about jailing terrified children that serves this country’s homeland security.

As the cruelty of ICE becomes increasingly unimaginable, it may become easy for us to dismiss their outrageousness. We may say: “That’s too terrible, it can’t be.” We may think: “That is so horrific, an American could never.”

As these thoughts inevitably creep in, I encourage you to think of Pauline Binam, waking up from a surgery to discover her fallopian tube had been removed without her knowledge or understanding. Think of Caroline - 18 years-old, pregnant, and in a foreign country - surviving her kidnapping and desperately hoping to provide a better life for her unborn child. Think of the thousands of women whose names and stories we will never know, for whom ICE’s brutality is not a talking point but a lived horror.

We will not let the experiences of these women be forgotten or ignored. And, with the right leadership, we will never let it happen again.

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