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We Don't Need to Investigate ICE—We Need to Dismantle It

ICE detention centers are part of the prison industrial complex and as such have to be included in our calls for full scale abolition.

TW: religious discrimination, violence, ICE

In late August, Muslim advocacy groups revealed that Muslim ICE detainees had been struggling with expired or rotten halal meals for two years. TWO YEARS! Because of this, they’ve been forced to eat pork or pork-based products just to survive. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue. Similar to the situation in prisons and jails, ICE detention centers have implemented COVID rules which severely limit incarcerated people’s ability to do basically anything except sit in their cells (and maybe eat). Before COVID, people incarcerated by ICE were able to choose their meals at the cafeteria, enabling them to avoid pork even if the halal meals were rotten (which happened often). Now, they’re served pre-portioned meals as a “safety precaution” where the choices are to eat spoiled halal food, eat pork, or eat nothing at all

Anyone with any sort of familiarity with ICE and their detention practices knows that cruelty is not uncommon—it’s the point. This is the same agency that’s been separating migrant children from their families, forcing migrants to drink toilet water, and apparently spraying people with industrial disinfectant. These are just the horrors we know about. 

In response to the recent discoveries by Muslim advocacy groups, U.S. lawmakers like Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have called for a probe into ICE’s practices. In a letter signed by several other representatives, they argue that halal meals should be made immediately available for Muslim detainees and ICE agents who have knowingly forced detainees to choose between rotten halal food, pork, or starvation be held accountable. Though I respect their desire to ensure Muslims in detention have access to food they feel safe and comfortable eating, there is no accountability for ICE in the same way there is no accountability for police. ICE detention centers will remain cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary even if everyone gets the food that they deserve. So yes, we need to push for religiously compliant and safe meals now, but we also need to call for the total abolition of ICE—not further investigation of it. 

We know that ICE is bad. An investigation will tell us just that. It’s been proven time and time again. We also know—without an investigation—that the agency isn’t even necessary. ICE as an agency is one of the newer fucked-up American creations. It was the brainchild of George W. Bush’s administration in the wake of 9/11 (which is why it is even more disgusting that he is spending his days painting immigrants for a new book). The point is that ICE’s recent creation proves that there was a time (in recent memory no less) before its existence—a time we can certainly return to. If the government stops pouring money into ICE, perhaps they could focus on creating a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented folks living in fear in this country. Or maybe they could create a humane way for asylum seekers to come here. Or maybe they could just give the land back to Indigenous people who could decide what to do with their own land. I DIGRESS. 

RECOMMENDED: Abolition Cannot Wait: Visions For Transformation and Radical World-Building

When looking at ICE and any other agency that incarcerates and dehumanizes people, we have to think big. We have to think about abolition. Calling for investigations and reforms will never work. Reforms very often just expand the reach of the prison industrial complex, enabling the government to better incarcerate and torture us. ICE was created to do exactly what it is doing now and that cannot be reformed. A racist and corrupt system cannot hold accountable those who are empowered to keep it in place. ICE agents were literally just doing their jobs. Their jobs are to incarcerate people who are seeking asylum in this country or who immigrated here without the consent of the American government. They weren’t hired to be kind or compassionate in the same way police were never meant to protect and serve.

ICE detention centers are part of the prison industrial complex and as such have to be included in our calls for full scale abolition. As we rightfully focus on the constant police violence threatening Black and brown Americans daily we cannot forget migrants and non-US citizens in our fight. 

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Reina Sultan is a Lebanese-American Muslim freelance journalist and one of the co-creators of 8 to Abolition. She is a PIC abolitionist and anarcha-feminist working to dismantle systems of white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy. Her work can also be found in VICE, Bitch, ZORA, Greatist, Teen Vogue, and more. Follow @SultanReina on Twitter for hot takes and cat photos.

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