Abolishing ICE by funding it

Abolishing ICE by funding it

In spite of promises to "Abolish ICE," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others voted to fund it on their very first day in office.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made quite a stir in her surprise victory in New York’s 14th Congressional district last year. Most notable was her radical-sounding declaration that she wanted to “Abolish ICE,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency responsible for rounding up and deporting undocumented immigrants.

Back in July, I wrote somewhat skeptically about this slogan emanating from Ocasio-Cortez, and taken up by many other Democrats. Now, we can begin to judge exactly what the slogan would mean in practice.

It turns out, she along with the entire Democratic Party caucus in the House of Representatives voted to fund ICE on their very first day in office.

This was not a catch-all bill to reopen the federal government, which has been shut down for weeks while Trump refuses to sign a budget until he gets funding for a border wall. That was a different vote. No, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled an entirely separate vote solely on funding the Department of Homeland Security. This is the department which oversees ICE as well as US Customs and Border Protections. And it passed with support of every Democratic member of Congress, including democratic socialists Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Talib, as well as a number of other self-proclaimed ICE “abolitionists.”

And yes, there have been other advocates of “abolitioning ICE” in the Democratic Party over the last few months. For a few months it seemed like a growing waive in the party as even mainstream Democrats and likely Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand took up the slogan.

But a funny thing happened. The Democrats--and I know this is going to come as a shock to many--chickened out. A bill was even presented in Congress but the then-Republican-dominated House actually scheduled a vote on their bill, at which time our would-be abolitionists announced that they would vote against their own bill.

It was all bullshit

Yes, it turns out, it was all bullshit.

Unfortunately, we will not get much of an analysis of this turn of events from Jacobin or The Nation, who are too busy enthusing over this false promise in their unending quest to elect their fellow Democrats. Instead, sadly, we are once again left to reading the capitalist press to understand what is actually going on.

NBC News noted just before the election in November “With just days to go before the midterm elections, the “Abolish ICE” issue has all but vanished from the radar.” It turned out that what they really wanted to do was to point the finger at Trump--and thereby win seats in the next election--rather than fundamentally or even superficially transform the US immigration system. They also found that pointing the finger at ICE was akin to attacking law enforcement because really, what are ICE agents but cops who enforce laws against immigrants? And nobody (in Democratic Party politics) wants to attack cops.

So the slogan was dropped and on day one of the most diverse Congress in US history, the Democrats voted to fund ICE and border patrol and the rest of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And if anybody wants to point out how ICE and DHS are not the same thing, and that DHS is more than just ICE, they are more than welcome to explain how DHS as a whole has contributed so much to humanity while the rest of us wait patiently.

It is worth noting what effective maneuvering this was by Nancy Pelosi, who out-maneuvered her colleagues to both her right and her left. Specifically setting aside vote for funding DHS--but without any funding for a border wall--forced the Republicans to vote no on DHS funding, as most of them did. It also bolstered her party’s credentials as being the better managers of national security, especially with her caucus entirely voting in support of the measure. And who would want to vote no in this situation? You would have to be really radical to want to do that. Better to be a team player and give the immigration and drug war machine its rightful funding.

This is the sort of thinking that went into the disastrous campaign of John Kerry in 2004, running for president against George W. Bush while declaring in a national debate that he would “hunt down and kill the terrorists.” These are the sort of politics that are going to play out in the 2020 election, with Pelosi leading the way and her caucus following diligently behind.

But was this simply an inopportune moment to raise abolishing ICE? Hardly. This was a perfect moment for radicals (if they really want to be radicals) to throw a monkey wrench into the entire operation and expose the policies of Pelosi and the rest of Democratic Party. If that is what they really wanted to do. But Ocasio-Cortez already announced that this is not what she wanted to do, as she told Vanity Fair: “There are certain issues where I’m going to make some Democrats mad if they’re trying to deliver paydays for Wall Street donors. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to burn the house down over it.” In other words, the goal is putting pressure on the Democrats while supporting their election campaigns--and supporting their continued dominance over the labor movement and the Left.

Some may have been inspired, or rather fooled, by Ocasio-Cortez’s visit to a sit-in at Pelosi’s office demanding swift action on climate change. But even this was hardly the radical swipe at the Democratic Party leadership that it seemed. “Should Leader Pelosi become the next speaker of the House,” Ocasio-Cortez said to the assembled protesters, “we need to tell her that we’ve got her back in showing and pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen.” A few days later, Ocasio-Cortez announced that she would endorse Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House. This was not a protest against Pelosi, rather it was merely a friendly nudge.

There has rarely been such a gap between style and substance, which is not to denigrate the talents of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She can be a great communicator for basic socialist ideas when she wants to be, but far too disappointing a conciliator, far too often instead. And while it is nice to hear her talk about a 70% top tax rate on the rich, and it would be even better to see such funds go toward social welfare programs, we often need to remind ourselves that revolts do not happen because people are convinced that a better tax policy is possible. Revolts occur when ordinary people can no longer tolerate living as they have been, when there is no alternative or hope in the powers that be, when there is no faith in the two parties or in social reformers with big promises that they fail to keep.

That is something still worth hoping for.

Posted By

Scott Jay
Jan 8 2019 05:42


Attached files


Is There No Alt...
Jan 8 2019 14:41

Great article, really incisive critique of AOC's vapid political posturing. However, regarding her proposed progressive taxation policy, I don't even think that its possible in any meaningful sense. Since it would incur direct costs on capital's valorisation process, it would most likely lead to increases in general price levels at the sight of even a marginal increase in aggregate effective demand. And then any further legislative steps to prevent that type of spiral between household accounts and consumer prices (like price controls) would probably just lead to capital flight. Revolution really is the only way out.

Mike Harman
Jan 8 2019 15:17
Is There No Alternative wrote:
ince it would incur direct costs on capital's valorisation process, it would most likely lead to increases in general price levels at the sight of even a marginal increase in aggregate effective demand.

Yeah sorry this is pretty far from reality. The proposal is for a 70% marginal rate of tax on incomes over 10 million dollars. Both the UK and US had top tax rates of between 75-99% of between the 1940s and the early '80s, on much lower income thresholds. It does no-one any favours to pretend this is some massively radical social democratic plan that isn't workable, it's standard post-war consensus stuff that was supported by Democrats/Republicans/Tories/Labour for 30+ years.

Is There No Alt...
Jan 8 2019 16:26

But Mike, it didn't really 'work' in the long-term though because eventually there was a falling rate of profit from the mid-1960s onwards and then a stagflation crisis in the 1970s. I never said it was 'radical' (however I definitely don't think it's seriously workable in the long-term) and I don't even know how such an observation could be extrapolated from my comment unless its a wilful misreading motivated by who knows what. If you don't think there would be an increase in inflation, as there actually was in all the countries you just mentioned which implemented a progressive taxation policy, I don't know what to tell you. I suggest you read Holloway and Bonefeld's work on how money was enabled as an instrument of capitalist power relations in the command of labour precipitating the collapse of the neo-Keynesian Fordist social contract. I find it quite odd that you don't know this yourself considering your very rigorous critiques of social democratic politics.

Is There No Alt...
Jan 8 2019 16:30

I would also note that the tax avoidance industry has mushroomed since the 1970s, which again renders neo-Keynesian tax policies further unworkable.

Jan 9 2019 01:43

Voting against funding ICE would unfortunately mean voting against funding Customs and Border Patrol. You know, the guys who regulate and facilitate international trade and collect import duties. That's a level of hamfistedness that few would find acceptable. I don't think her vote is necessarily indicative of a lack of commitment to abolishing ICE through other avenues.

Jan 9 2019 02:01

@Is There No Alt... My understanding is that the stagflation crisis was largely the result of shocks to the supply of natural resources, particularly energy resources, thanks to Nixon's imposition of price controls and especially the OPEC embargo, factors which were completely independent of tax policy.

Jan 9 2019 04:46

For anything to work 30+ years under capitalism is an achievement. Of course it is a very narrow demand. International tax havens need to be addressed as well, but I don't see how any of this is inevitable. It just reflects the current balance of power between capital and the 99%. Demands that point toward a massive redistribution of wealth should be supported, even if they are insufficient. Our role should be to help people learn from the struggle.

Long before I ever heard the "Abolish ICE" demand protests in Boston called for "End Deportations" which is much more direct. After all, border control was repressive and deportations were common long before ICE was a thing. So where did "Abolish ICE" come from anyway? Did AOC just cook it up herself?

Wouldn't it be nice to have a movement that could win insufficient demands so people could *see* the need for more revolutionary demands, instead of just taking our word for it?

Jan 9 2019 11:17

Yup, an excellent article revealing the shallowness of the so called DSA "takeover" of the Democrats

Jan 9 2019 17:29

Voting against funding ICE would unfortunately mean voting against funding FEMA. And Customs and Border Patrol are the guys who regulate and facilitate international trade and collect import duties. That's a level of hamfistedness that few would find acceptable. I don't think her vote is necessarily indicative of a lack of commitment to abolishing ICE through other avenues.

Jan 9 2019 18:20

Outstanding article. Can we have more like this please? I.e. articles we can share on social media without our friends and family immediately unfollowing us...

Jan 10 2019 01:07

Capitalism is inherently unstable. So anything that works for 30+ years is a pretty big success. Off shore tax havens are a huge problem, but I don't see it as undermining the value of calls to tax the rich. It just means we need an entire platform that points to another kind of society. Rejecting reformist demands doesn't inspire people into action or teach them how to make better demands. The masses need to learn from the experiences of struggle. Only a dedicated few will take to heart the lessons of history beyond our immediate context.

That said, the demand to "Abolish ICE" may be a step forward for Democratic politicians, but the movement in Boston has been putting "End Deportations" at the center of our mobilizations for many years. It's much more direct. It says something we actually want, rather than a bureaucratic reshuffling. After all, we had a militarized and racist system of deportations long before ICE. I'm curious, where did this "Abolish ICE" demand even come from? Did AOC make it up?

Jan 12 2019 06:20

Socialist ideas from a counterrevolutionary will not bring about fundamental change in the bourgeois imperialist state. Based on my own experience in the DSA, there was never a time when we focused on organizing the working class. It was all book study and social gatherings. I know they've changed in the past 5-6 years with an uptick in membership, but they lack a working class base. The average school teacher knows more about the working class in the U.S. than DSA members. Not only that, the temptations to sell out for AOC will be numerous. The offers for book and movie deals...

Jan 17 2019 02:54

I really appreciate this. AOC is lauded as this progressive hero and even "socialist," when she's clearly nothing of the sort. I think she's better than many politicians, but the whole attitude that she can do no bad that has been adopted by social democrats is absolute bogus.

Jan 25 2019 17:08

This article did well on social media. More please!