Photo: Getty

Earlier this week, in response to increasingly loud calls from the left to abolish U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the agency that’s responsible for carrying out the recent policy of family separation at the US border, and the subsequent child abuse that resulted—House Republicans naturally introduced a symbolic bill in praise of ICE.

According to a piece by Politico, the original idea was to force Democrats to vote on a bill to abolish ICE. Paul Ryan wasn’t so sure about that strategy, worrying that the Democrats would oppose it instead of playing into the Republicans narrative.

Instead, the Republicans drafted a bill supporting ICE. On Wednesday, 18 House Democrats voted in favor of the bill, which confirms the House’s “continued support” for ICE and the “the efforts of all Federal agencies, State law enforcement, and military personnel who bring law and order to our Nation’s borders.”

Along with 133 Democrats who voted “present” rather than support the bill, one Republican, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, also voted against the bill.

Democrats rationalized their choice by saying that ICE officers themselves aren’t the problem. Buzzfeed News reports:

“The problem are not the men and women of ICE. Those are the same men and women that worked under Bush, worked under Obama, they’re working now under Trump,” Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar told BuzzFeed News. “The problem is the policies that the Trump administration — that’s what we ought to focus our anger on, the policies of Trump. Not on the men and women that are just there to enforce the law.” [...]

“I may not like what this administration’s directing the Environmental Protection Agency to do, but that doesn’t mean I think we ought to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency,” California Rep. Jim Costa, who also voted for the resolution, told BuzzFeed News. “This [vote was] another political gotcha which has nothing to do with solving our immigration problems.”

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It should be noted that Rep. Henry Cuellar received $16,500 from private prison companies that profit off ICE’s activities. His argument that these officers enforced many of the same policies under Obama and Bush is exactly why the Abolish ICE movement focuses on the organization itself, not just on Trump’s ramping up of their fascist tactics. They argue that ICE, a 15-year-old organization created by George W. Bush, should be dissembled and its useful functions reassigned to other agencies. That this is a problem which is inherent to our treatment of migrants and asylum seekers at the border, rather than the doing of one administration, is exactly the point.

Historically, defending horrific actions by saying the people at fault were “just following orders” hasn’t exactly played well. There’s a name for people who enforce unjust laws, and those who support them: collaborators.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Politico reported Paul Ryan was afraid Democrats would oppose the bill to support ICE. In fact, he was afraid they would oppose another, different bill, which would abolish ICE.