Following Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win in the New York congressional primary last year, her push to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement became a rallying cry for the left and a bogeyman for the right. In an interview published on Wednesday, she says she wants to eliminate the department that houses ICE as well.
Speaking with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, Ocasio-Cortez was asked why she wouldn’t rather reform ICE, giving the example of the Church Committee’s influence on reforms within the CIA and FBI. “Why can’t that be done with ICE?” Remnick asked her.
Because the core structure of ICE, I believe—and, frankly, the entire Department of Homeland Security—you know, this was established by George Bush, in the wake of 9/11, right. As the Patriot Act and all of these different institutions that were, frankly, very large threats to American civil liberties, started to get established. And people sounded the alarm back then that these agencies are extrajudicial, that they lack effective oversight, and it is baked into the core foundational structure of these agencies.
When Remnick pressed her as to whether or not she would abolish the entire Department of Homeland Security, she said yes. “I think we need to undo a lot of the egregious mistakes that the Bush Administration did,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I feel like it is a very qualified and supported position, at least in terms of evidence and in terms of being able to make the argument that we never should have created DHS, in the early 2000s.”
Ocasio-Cortez is spot on here. The dystopian-sounding Department of Homeland Security was created in the aftermath of 9/11, and the Trump era has really shown the absolute worst of what fear manifested as a bureaucracy can do. The duties performed by DHS could be performed by the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, or other cabinet departments that weren’t explicitly founded on the basis of fear and xenophobia. We got along for over 200 years with DHS, and its track record so far indicates we could easily do without it.
Furthermore, this is exactly the right time to talk about abolishing the department. While the call to abolish ICE hasn’t gone anywhere, and likely won’t in the immediate future without a huge shift in favor of the Democratic Party, DHS is still an extremely young Cabinet department, founded well within the lifetime of most Americans. And as many on the right who’ve tried to abolish bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education will tell you, it gets harder and harder to do so the more that agencies become entrenched within the federal bureaucracy.
In her interview with Remnick, Ocasio-Cortez also described the conditions she saw during a visit to a migrant detention center in Texas earlier this month:
It’s not even living. So, we walked in and in one of the cells, the cell is just all concrete. There were just women on a concrete floor, and then there were two concrete slabs where they could sit, and then in the back there was a toilet, and a concrete slab in front of the toilet, but no door. And these women were just in these sleeping bags on the floor over each other. There’s no way that they could all sleep at once. Almost no way. And . . . I mean . . . they were being—it was, it was the physical manifestation of Trump’s rhetoric in calling migrants animals. Because that’s how these women were being treated. Their hair was falling out, they had sores in their mouth due to the lack of nutrition in the food that they were being given.
She also talked about why she’s calling these centers “concentration camps,” for which she’s come under fire from the likes of everyone from Mike Pence and Liz Cheney to Chuck Todd and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“I think one of the reasons why I found it important to use this term is because this whole crisis, and the treatment of migrants at the border, has been this low-grade, static, background-noise torture that has been happening in our country, and has been getting worse and worse and worse,” Ocasio-Cortez told Remnick. “Then more accounts started coming out recently. Court documents. Very disturbing accounts from lawyers, from interviews, and then academics started to say, ‘These are concentration camps.’ There was an academic consensus on this.”
You can read the rest of the interview here.