Former Cabinet Secretary Who Oversaw ICE: ICE Is Good, Actually

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Jeh Johnson was the Secretary of Homeland Security under Barack Obama for the majority of Obama’s second term, a position from which he oversaw ICE. As Jorge Rivas pointed out for this website in June, Johnson has been flexing is commentary muscles by calling the Trump deportation regime “un-American and ineffective,” despite the fact that he helped pave the way for family separation with his own inhumane methods of deterrence.

On Sunday, Johnson took to the opinion pages of the Washington Post to claim that abolishing ICE is “not a serious policy proposal,” one he compares to Donald Trump claiming that Mexico would pay for a border wall. It is a truly bad piece.


Johnson writes:

Elections have consequences. Those consequences are changes in policy, not typically the creation or elimination of whole agencies. If Americans don’t like ICE’s current enforcement polices, the public should demand a change in those policies, or a change in the leaders who promulgate those policies. During the Vietnam War, millions of Americans demanded an end to the war; no one seriously demanded that we abolish the entire Defense Department. Obviously, that would have completely compromised national security.


Meanwhile, I constantly reminded ICE leadership that controversial, high-profile cases of fathers torn from their families and students pulled from their schools for deportation would turn ICE into a pariah in the very communities where its agents must work, and would threaten to undermine ICE’s larger public-safety mission. I regret to watch that happening now, as ICE is vilified across the country and sanctuary cities are emboldened to proclaim themselves as such. My thoughts are with the hard-working men and women of the agency caught in the middle of this political firestorm.


What Johnson ignores here is that abolishing ICE is a “change in those policies.” It might be bewildering to Johnson, but advancing an idea that would prevent hardliners from torment immigrant communities by taking away the tool they’re using—one which was created just fifteen years ago—is just as valid of a policy proposal as vague plays at “reform.”

Hatred and distrust of ICE—contrary to popular belief in the media, in the Democratic Party, and in the upper echelons of both the previous and current administrations—is not just something that came out of nowhere. Activists have been protesting both ICE and local governments working with it for years. The fact that more people are now paying attention to our awful deportation policies because Trump is weaponizing ICE to its fullest extent does not change that; in fact, seeing what horrific things that the agency is capable of strengthens the argument that it has to go.

What does Johnson think is a more realistic proposal than abolishing ICE? Republicans compromising when they have absolutely no incentive to:

Calls to abolish ICE only serve to sow even greater division in the American public and in its political leadership, damaging any remaining prospect of bipartisan immigration reform. This is one of the things Americans hate about Washington — that politics has become the end, not the means. Most Americans — whether in Laredo, Tex., or Queens, N.Y. — do not embrace the emotional and absolutist views of immigration on the extreme right or on the extreme left. They simply want to secure the country’s borders, to eliminate the inefficiencies in the system and to treat fairly the undocumented people who were brought here as children and have committed no serious crimes.

None of these interests is being served in Washington right now. It’s just a screaming match. The American public must demand more of its leaders and those who seek that honor. In a democracy, governing requires compromise, compromise requires the acceptance of political risk, and political risk requires political courage. We must hope that sanity, and a little courage, someday, somehow prevail in Washington.


Has Johnson paid attention to the world he lives in since he left office? “Bipartisan immigration reform” now means something that would be right at home on the pages of Breitbart. Families are being ripped apart at will. What did he think would fill the vacuum on the left when the middle has perpetually treated undocumented immigrants as unwelcome guests at best and dangerous at worst, in the hopes of winning over GOP moderates? (Or, perhaps equally as likely, because that’s what they truly believe.)

We don’t need ICE, or the Department of Homeland Security, which is what the logical conclusion of the current push to abolish ICE should be. That’s not pie-in-the-sky bullshit; it’s a real idea that could do a lot of good, and one that’s worth examining just as closely as half-assed attempts at reforming a federal agency who currently have a blank check to terrorize immigrants.