A new nonprofit launching Monday intends to push back against the “Abolish ICE” movement and what it says is the “vilification” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) mission and its agents in recent years – while pushing for stricter interior immigration enforcement and the end of “sanctuary” cities.
The National Immigration Center for Enforcement – or NICE – intends to advocate for the embattled agency which, after receiving a boost under the Trump administration, has seen its mission narrow significantly under President Biden amid continual attacks from activists who want to scrap the agency altogether.
The Biden Department of Homeland Security sought to slap a moratorium on all deportations but was blocked by a court order. It has since narrowed ICE’s enforcement scope, ordering agents to focus on public safety threats, recent border crossers and national security threats. That move has also been blocked by a court challenge.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last year declared that his agency had “fundamentally changed immigration enforcement in the interior.”
“For the first time ever, our policy explicitly states that a non-citizen’s unlawful presence in the United States will not, by itself, be a basis for the initiation of an enforcement action,” he said.
The administration’s moves have coincided with a sharp decrease in deportations. The agency removed 72,177 illegal immigrants in FY 2022 and 59,011 in FY 2021. Those numbers marked a sharp drop from the 185,884 deported in FY 20 (the last full fiscal year of the Trump administration) and 267,258 in FY 2019. That drop also came as the Abolish ICE movement has continued to gain steam among Democrats in Congress.
A recent DHS Office of Inspector General report, meanwhile, found that conditions at the southern border – where many ICE agents have been diverted to deal with the ongoing migrant crisis – are impacting agents’ health and morale. NICE believes their nonprofit will be welcomed by the men and women of the agency who serve on the front lines.
NICE president RJ Hauman, who comes to the role with over a decade in policy and lobbying on immigration in Congress, says interior immigration enforcement is “critical to national security and public safety.”
“Instead, the Biden administration has directed the very agency in charge of enforcing our immigration laws to willfully violate them. This has triggered a historic border crisis while inflicting immeasurable harm on the American people, our communities, and the very fabric of our nation,” he said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“When fully operational and acting in accordance with Federal law, ICE makes America safer and more secure. Instead, political forces here in Washington have hijacked ICE and continue to prevent its brave men and women from enforcing our laws and defending our country – precisely what the agency was created to do,” he said.
Hauman said the goal of the new group “is to help return ICE to the enforcement agency it was meant to be.”
The group’s advisory board includes former DHS officials, including former acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Joseph Edlow, retired ICE Field Office Director John Fabbricatore, former DHS Office of General Counsel official Mike Howell, and Chris Russo, president of Texans for Strong Borders.
Edlow noted that the ongoing situation at the border itself often receives a great deal of attention in the media and elsewhere, but that issues related to ICE and interior enforcement are often overlooked.
“While border security is critical, we can no longer afford to ignore larger immigration enforcement issues. The first 48 hours of a border encounter transforms into years of unlawful presence, court delays and unexecuted removal orders,” he said.
Edlow, also a former ICE attorney, called for a “return to the integrity of the laws and push back against the vilification of ICE’s mission and its agents.”
“NICE will add a narrative to the immigration debate that is largely ignored, and will seek to ensure that the American people can rely on justice, protection and fairness in the immigration system,” he said.
Fabbricatore, who served at the agency for more than two decades, praised the commitment of those who work at ICE “to protect their communities and the entire nation.”
“While politicians with questionable priorities created hot button issues around the immigration process, those of us in immigration enforcement continued to respond daily to illegal immigration, human smuggling, sex and drug trafficking, gang violence, and many other crimes. With what is happening at the border and gutting of enforcement in the interior of the country, it is time to strengthen our resolve and enforce the law as it is written,” he said. “The citizens of this country deserve it and the lingering excuses for inaction are no longer acceptable.”
The organization comes with a slew of policy priorities related to enforcement, including calling for the removal of those who break immigration law, punishing of repeat offenders, ending “catch-and-release policies,” mandatory E-Verify, and greater cooperation with state and local enforcement.
The group also calls for the end of what it says are illegal “sanctuary cities.” Such jurisdictions forbid or limit law enforcement cooperation with ICE detainers – which are requests that a law enforcement agency notify ICE before releasing an illegal immigrant in their custody.
Proponents of sanctuary laws argue that they encourage cooperation from otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants, but opponents argue that it leads to the release of illegal immigrant criminals who could otherwise be deported back onto the streets. Sanctuary cities have become a hot political issue in the last year after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began busing migrants to sanctuary cities across the country – including Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.
Illegal immigration, meanwhile, is likely to remain a hot-button issue in the coming months. The Biden administration is still dealing with a border crisis that is now into its third year, and has been highlighting the removal flights it has been conducting since the end of Title 42 last month. Additionally, both border security and interior immigration enforcement are likely to be key issues in the 2024 presidential campaign.