The White House is set to host an event on August 20, honoring agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies, an official confirmed to Politico this week.
The event, “Salute to the Heroes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs [and] Border Protection,” comes at a tenuous moment for the Trump administration, as it struggles to reunite hundreds of separated immigrant families and faces criticism over mounting allegations of abuse within ICE-contracted detention facilities.
Politico noted Thursday evening that the event was further proof of the administration’s anti-immigration strategy running up to the 2018 elections.
“[…] The Trump administration anticipates the midterm fallout from its zero-tolerance border policy very differently from its critics,” the outlet wrote. “The ceremony is ready-made to provoke ire from opponents of the zero tolerance policy, some of whom have called for ICE’s abolition.”
Although troubled by the announcement, immigration advocates have said the event could serve as fuel for Democratic candidates looking to paint themselves in stark comparison to their Republican opponents who might support the event or the president’s overall strategy.
“At this point, I’m like, ‘Keep doing [these kinds of things],” Frank Sharry, executive director of the group America’s Voice, told Politico. “Americans are concerned with health care costs, education for their kids and retirement for their parents, and he’s having a pep rally with ICE agents.”
The Trump administration has no doubt been remorseless about its practice of separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the White House has recently made statements indicating its view that the family separation crisis is over.
According to recent government figures, however, 565 children, including 24 children under the age of 5, still remain separated from their families. Hundreds of parents have also been deported, and lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are now faced with the monumental task of finding them and reconnecting them with their children.
After President Trump signed an executive order in June, the federal government ended the family separation practice it had implemented months prior, but assumed no responsibility for reuniting parents and children torn apart under the policy. Instead, an administration official told the ACLU, which is representing many of those parents, that it was the organization’s duty to “determine the wishes of and fulfill their obligations to their clients, as they have repeatedly represented in court that they would.”
The White House event is sure to draw criticism from Democrats, many of whom have called for the agency’s abolition in light of recent reports of abuse perpetrated by ICE agents against migrant families. As The Intercept reported in April, more than half of the 1,224 sexual abuse complaints filed by detained immigrants between 2010 and September 2017 were made against ICE agents charged with overseeing their custody.
ICE has also worked in tandem with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to trap undocumented immigrant spouses seeking legal status, arresting them during meetings with immigration officials and subsequently deporting some of them. In emails obtained by the ACLU, USCIS employees said it was their “job to locate and arrest [undocumented immigrants].”
ICE’s tactic of trapping immigrants seeking legal status squares with a recent report that found federal arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants have tripled under the Trump administration. At least 58,010 undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions were arrested in the first 14 months of the Trump administration alone, many of them without warrants.