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Faith-based groups turn up the heat on ICE

A man, who would not identify himself, holds a sign at a protest camp on property outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Portland, Ore., on June 25, 2018. Law enforcement officers began distributing notices to vacate to demonstrators late Monday morning. The round-the-clock demonstration outside the Portland headquarters began June 17, 2018, and increased in size early last week, prompting officials to close the facility. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

(RNS) — Even before the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy led to the forced separation of immigrant parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, religious groups cast a jaundiced eye on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Known as ICE for short, the agency has drawn widespread criticism for its aggressive arrest of immigrants, procedural missteps and documented cases of physical and sexual abuse among detainees. Last year, a report by Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General identified a series of problems that “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” Those included strip-searching detainees and deterring them from filing grievances.

Now two left-leaning faith-based groups, the American Friends Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association, are joining a growing call to abolish ICE.

On Monday (June 25), the AFSC, a group founded by the Quakers, issued an email urging recipients to “Sign our petition today: Tell Congress to abolish ICE!” And this past weekend, delegates to the Unitarian Universalist Association meeting in Kansas City, Mo., passed a resolution calling for ICE to be dismantled. The sentiment was so overwhelming that no count was taken.

“ICE has a history of terrorizing and abusing immigrants and operating outside the law,” the UUA resolution reads. “As the agency carrying out the administration’s barbaric policies, it must be dismantled so humane and appropriate processes and agencies can be created.”

Delegates voting during the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association meeting in Kansas City, Mo., on June 20-24, 2018. Photo courtesy of Nancy Pierce/UUA

Religious groups are just the latest to champion the idea of killing the agency. The effort has already gained traction among several congressional candidates plus four sitting members of Congress, all Democrats.

And Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., viewed as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said Sunday during an interview with NBC News that “we need to probably think about starting from scratch” in immigration enforcement. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who is also a potential 2020 presidential contender, has so far shied from calling for the agency’s elimination.

But many faith-based groups that have been working with immigrants have never liked ICE.

The agency, created in 2003 and installed under the jurisdiction of the then-new Department of Homeland Security, was set up in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It gained a reputation for its zealous enforcement of laws on the border, particularly with undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Faith-based groups working with immigrants have been among the first to point out cases where ICE has picked up people suspected of being undocumented in workplace raids, outside of hospitals and riding in cars.

“We have many groups around the country working with immigrant communities, experiencing firsthand the systematic abuses that ICE has been carrying out,” said Kristin Kumpf,  director of human migration and mobility for the AFSC.

The organization hopes to get some 10,000 signatures for its petition to Congress. As of Wednesday it had received half that. Many of its supporters have also adopted the Twitter hashtag #AbolishICE.

Kumpf said she didn’t feel like the organization needed to offer a solution for replacing ICE.

“We don’t need to have an exact blueprint for restructuring the federal government in this moment to say that ICE is immoral, unaccountable and dangerous,” she added.

Neither did Carey McDonald, an executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. “We lived without ICE for a long time,” he said, adding that the country could easily go back to pre-2003 status quo. Prior to ICE, the government empowered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to undertake enforcement.

McDonald said 60 percent of the association’s 1,000 congregations reported taking some public action to support immigration justice last year. Some 80 UUA congregations have pledged their willingness to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants and others are training now to accompany detained immigrants when they go to court hearings, often with no legal counsel.

“One of our principles is the inherent worth and dignity of each person,” McDonald said. “Our immigration system denies the dignity of people in the system.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

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  • The Quakers, a peaceful religion if ever there were one, like the Unitarians, were among the first to embrace LGTB people while other religions were shunning us. More than the others, they represent the best, most faithful witness of way of life that Jesus of Nazareth taught. I applaud their efforts and wish them luck in this current noble endeavor. Would that more Christians follow the way of their example.

  • If more Christian groups followed their example, then our country would be a very different place, indeed — a much better one

  • Yes, beloved hater-in-general Jr Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) garnered 15+ instant co-sponsor Dems to support her (and Feinstein’s) Mexi-Miranda nick-named Bill which all Congress delighted to read and pass 2 weeks after J20. She demanded all detainees HIRE (by Promissory Note attached to their Dem Voter Reg – no stress eh?) lawyers (from Team Kam) to ‘Fast Trak Legalization’. Too bad it clogged Court calendars, jails, split children off to alt detentions. Yup, thank Kam also that her Bill restricted ICE using any govt bldg – so all work is out in public. Got complexity? Got red tape? Love Kam’s transparency: she clogged jails, made kids in lockups cry, and prevented ICE telling all detainees they can sign Court Waivers (like Trump wants?) and re-enter thru a Legal Entry Port for super easy legal immigrant processing. No Court, you sure? Heh-heh. Thanks Kamala (and Feinstein, and Dems). Kam’s latest is the Pruitt slam (over a pair of ballgame tickets and hand lotion?) is her EPA Bill to tighten (add more) laws for MORE chemicals “to ensure child migrant workers’ safety.”

  • ICE is only 15 years old. It has no oversight and accountability to speak of and barely bothers to follow its own rules. If not abolishing it, then at least heavily restructuring it as to something less than the heavy handed goon squad it is.

  • Religious hypocrisy :
    John 18:36
    Jesus answered: “My Kingdom is no part of this world. If my Kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from this source.”

    Sticking a nose where it does not belong.

  • I agree with your positive assessment of these groups, but any operative effect of their world views is going, going, gone for some time to come. Kindness and fairness is out of fashion—–regrettably.

  • I suppose these Democrats would have no problem if Republicans responded to the current mess in the FBI by calling for the agency to be shut down?

  • How very true that is. Rudeness, crudeness, lying, cheating, stealing…those are the new “virtues” ushered in by the president your party put in power. Take a bow.

  • The FBI has oversight and accountability to outside parties. People in their custody are guaranteed due process rights and counsel. The FBI doesn’t try to interfere with, or attack local law enforcement. None of those are true with 15 year old ICE. ICE has even wrongfully detained legal immigrants and citizens for months or even years because they have no oversight and don’t give people access to legal counsel and other due process rights.

    Trump attacks the FBI because he’s is are war with professional ethics, competence, and those with a duty to the nation. Sane people oppose ICE because the agency lacks such things.

  • ICE was preceded by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was not exactly the kindly policeman getting your cat out of a tree. In fact it took until this decade that people in law enforcement circles stopped referring to “INS.” ICE was meant, when Homeland Security was created, to consolidate the border enforcement functions that INS and the US Customs Service were already undertaking and still must undertake. But you’re right, it has gotten too heavy-handed, that’s what happens when immense unchecked power is handed over. So yes, it should be restructured, but not eliminated.

  • There is not enough ranch dressing to cover that word salad. Paragraph breaks anyone?

    This is not a Gish Gallop, it’s s full on Gish Stampede. So much nonsense to unpack. 🙂

  • Kindness, fairness, justice, rudeness, lying cheating, bullying-have always been with man and woman from the beginning, surprised? and then there are the people who point it out but must use lying, bullying, cheating in order to point the finger. unkindness, unfair, rude works for me-pisses everybody off-but it’s all talk, talk, talk, blah-blah-blah.

  • Looking at another of your posts, I too am sorry you “wasted 36 years of (your) “faith” years of (your) life bossing people around with it, pointing fingers at sin, speaking “damnation”, giving collossally stupid advice on how to live”.

    That was not supposed to be what one gets from church. We are supposed to get kindness, empathy, humility and grace both received and extended by us to others. I too am decades out of church, but I kept Jesus in my heart and did not replace him with “who cares?”.

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