Obama’s Homeland Security Chief Just Waded Into the “Abolish ICE” Fight

The idea has gotten too big for its opponents to ignore.

Erik Mcgregor/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Over the last few weeks, fueled by Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary upset in New York and and a frenzy of damning stories about the Trump administration’s immigration policies, calls to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency have moved from the fringes to the forefront of the national political debate. Now those calls have reached the ears of former Obama Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who published an op-ed in the Washington Post defending the embattled agency. At DHS Johnson had jurisdiction over ICE, and not surprisingly, he’s in favor of keeping it:

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.

The reality is that abolishing ICE is not a serious policy proposal; it’s about as serious as the claim that Mexico’s “gonna pay for the wall.”

Johnson isn’t just some bureaucrat in exile. Although his op-ed doesn’t mention it, his new job also gives him some skin in the game. He’s now on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, a leading defense contractor that has made a concerted push to profit from border enforcement. It goes without saying that companies with a vested interest in militarized immigration enforcement are going to resist calls to change course.

The Abolish ICE movement has always been pretty upfront about the strategy behind it. Its organizers subscribe to the Overton Window theory of politics, of pushing a deliberately provocative idea in the hope of shifting the boundaries of policy fights and redefine what kinds of ideas are taken seriously. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have already taken the bait. On Saturday, Johnson gave activists more of what they want.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate