Of all of the issues that played out on the national news cycle this summer, perhaps none seemed as urgent as that of American immigration policy. While the border region gained much of the attention, D.C. was not immune to the effects of the national crackdown on undocumented immigrants. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested over a dozen D.C. residents in a July raid in Columbia Heights, using unjust and potentially illegal tactics, according to local immigrant advocates cited in DCist. The raid provided fresh proof that, even though D.C. officials have called the city a sanctuary city, the undocumented community faces risks absent from the lives of legal residents. We find ICE’s recent actions in the District to be extremely troubling and urge the D.C. government to do everything possible to protect the city’s undocumented community.
According to an anonymous undocumented woman quoted in the Washington Post, ICE officers claiming to be police visited her home in Columbia Heights in July and said that they were investigating an assault on her husband which he had previously reported to D.C. police. She told them to come back later, as her husband was out playing soccer.
Later that day, after trying to give the police the information he thought they had been seeking, the husband and his brother were arrested by ICE officers. The officers who had visited his wife earlier had actually been attempting to make an arrest. This case was one of several in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, an operation that included a roundup described by advocates as indiscriminate targeting of D.C. residents. To create safe communities for everybody, the city’s undocumented population must feel comfortable cooperating with police forces without fear that it could result in their arrest.
Amidst threats from Trump to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirmed the District’s status as a sanctuary city last year. This means that the city’s police force, along with the rest of the District government, should not cooperate with federal immigration officials.
In the wake of the 132 arrests made by ICE in the D.C. area in July, protesters accused D.C. police of providing information to ICE, something a D.C. police spokesperson denied. While these allegations have not been confirmed, they are still worrisome, and we call on the city and D.C. police forces to continue to enforce their ban on cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Following the July raids, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sent a letter asking ICE to “identify the individuals who were detained, give reasons for the detentions, and explain the agency’s immigration enforcement policies.” We applaud Racine for seeking answers regarding ICE’s actions within the District, but it is not enough. The allegations of D.C. police cooperation with ICE should be thoroughly investigated to confirm that city officials maintained the D.C. government’s sanctuary city policy.
Bowser often cites the city’s Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program, a fund the District has allocated to provide legal defense for certain undocumented immigrants, as an example of the city’s advocacy for its undocumented population. We have praised the fund in the past, specifically Bowser’s decision to allocate taxpayer money to the fund’s efforts. However, the mayor’s office redistributed $400,000 of funding approved by the D.C. city council for representation of detained immigrants to other parts of the city’s budget in response to veto threats from the Republican Congress, which approves the District’s budgets.
ICE’s misconduct has been well-documented nationwide. ICE’s actions have caused physical, mental, and emotional damage to thousands of American residents, and a few of those arrested in D.C. in July have already been deported. In addition, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s built-in watchdog, ICE does not maintain enough safeguards or monitoring to provide sufficient oversight of detention facilities.
The agency’s transgressions have caused activists and politicians to embrace efforts to abolish ICE, a movement that this editorial board supports. This would not be a one-step solution to this country’s immigration woes, but ICE’s abolition would merely be a first step in a much-needed larger reform of our country’s immigration system.
ICE has previously detained a 10-year-old girl immediately after she received surgery, targeted victims of domestic violence for deportation, and illegally moved undocumented minors to detention centers on their 18th birthdays, in addition to countless other inhumane actions. Certainly the United States can maintain a functioning immigration system without an agency that has caused so much harm while only existing since 2003.
We recognize that Bowser and the D.C. government are working within an already broken system, and that structural issues such as Congress’s control over the city budget make it difficult to act in defiance of federal policy. Still, it is up to the city government to make sure that the undocumented residents of the city, including our fellow students at Georgetown, can live in safety and peace.