Screenshot: MSNBC

On Wednesday night, Senator Kamala Harris went on MSNBC to talk about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attack on California’s laws shielding undocumented immigrants from the untrammeled threat of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Harris said most of the “right” things about how bad Sessions is and how immigrants deserve to be protected. But then, as a sharp-eyed Twitter user noticed on Friday, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked her a good question: Should ICE even exist?

Here is part of her response (emphasis mine):

Well, certainly. When we’re talking about people who have committed serious and violent crimes—you know, I mean, Chris, you know my background. I’m a prosecutor. I believe that there needs to be serious, severe and swift consequence when people commit serious and violent crimes...and certainly if they are undocumented they should be deported if they commit those serious and violent offenses. So yes, ICE has a purpose, ICE has a role, ICE should exist. But let’s not abuse the power. Let’s not extend it to areas that are not posing a threat to the safety and the public safety of these communities.

What Harris’ seemingly reasonable response misses—beyond the fact that there is an entire gigantic and ugly criminal justice system already dealing with serious and violent crimes, and that we don’t need to throw in a white nationalist goon squad on top of it—is that there is no way to prevent ICE from “abusing” its power. Abuse of power is baked into its very core. It exists to cause misery and terror, and has successfully carried out that task under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Under Donald Trump, it has shown beyond all possible doubt that it is too morally bankrupt to be reformed.


Any serious defender of undocumented people in this country would look at ICE and know that it is a cancer that needs to be excised from the U.S. Pretending that the most diseased levers of state power can be molded into something better is a useless fantasy. ICE must be abolished. Anything less is not good enough.

Kamala Harris is very likely running for president in 2020. It should be a political problem for her that she is not willing to take her criticisms of ICE to their logical conclusion and call for its abolition. She should be asked, over and over again, why exactly she is willing to uphold the legitimacy of such a racist, corrupt, and thuggish organization. Anyone else who decides to run—Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Garcetti, you name it—should be asked the same question.

It is no longer enough for these people to talk about all of the good immigrants they want to save. We are long past that point, and the time has come for them to really put their money where their mouths are.