The Biden administration is reportedly considering overhauling Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a way that would terminate the jobs of thousands of officers tasked with arresting and deporting immigrants illegally residing in the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently introduced a plan to do away with ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations arm and convert those officers into agents who investigate transnational crime instead of going after illegal immigrants, the Washington Times reported.
The consideration comes after Mayorkas testified before senators in his confirmation hearing last month and said that he did not think ICE should be abolished.
The Biden administration's proposal, outlined to top officials at the agency, would keep ICE's name and its investigations side but effectively do away with its ability to enforce immigration laws. ICE would have little, if any, ability to do anything about people who choose to overstay a visa or illegally enter the U.S. at its land borders. Over the past decade, ICE officers have faced mounting challenges taking illegal immigrants into custody in sanctuary jurisdictions across the country that have enacted policies not to allow local police to turn over immigrants to ICE, as was standard practice for decades.
"This is an administrative abolishment of ICE as we currently know it," one person with knowledge of the plan said.
The number of illegal immigrants taken into custody by ICE would dramatically decline as a result, as would the number of people removed from the U.S. ICE arrests have dropped significantly over the past decade. Nearly 300,000 people were arrested during fiscal year 2009 compared to 143,000 in 2019.
Tae Johnson, the acting ICE director, has worked in federal immigration for nearly three decades and supported Mayorkas's plan in the private briefing with officials. The same idea was floated in 2018 as calls to abolish ICE permeated the agency's heavy focus on detaining immigrants in private and government jails.
ICE has approximately 6,000 federal officers who carry out immigration enforcement and 7,000 federal agents who investigate a slew of criminal cases. Investigators have a higher security clearance than the immigration officers, and Mayorkas's plan would potentially come with a pay raise for the thousands of immigration officers, but at the cost of pulling their jobs out from under them.