July 9th, 2018
I spent most of my morning in the offices of I.C.E. on Knapp Street in downtown Milwaukee. I was there to provide moral support to Gieselheid, a older German lady who was going for her citizenship test. Freya and I were there to sit with Gieselheid until her interview started. We talked about cooking and about our families. Mostly, Freya and I were trying to distract Gieselheid, and perhaps help her to relax a bit. Gieselheid had an appointment for her test, but the appointment time didn’t really mean much. She was supposed to have her interview at 10:45, and it was nearly 11:30 before anybody called her name. The waiting room at the I.C.E. office is a Petri dish for anxiety and worry. All the people sitting there are wondering if they can pass the test and become U.S. citizens. The fact is that there are no guarantees. The test is very subjective. An examiner who had a bad night may fail a person. Another examiner who woke up in a positive mood might pass everyone she meets that day.
Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security has a couple different organizations housed in that building on Knapp Street. The examiners most likely are from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). The USCIS takes care of applications and exams. I.C.E does enforcement of immigration laws. Two different agencies with two very different jobs.
I had never been in that building before. I was more than a little apprehensive about even entering the place. My previous experience with I.C.E. was not pleasant. Undercover I.C.E. agents had snatched a guy last month when I was in a courthouse with an undocumented immigrant. That was unnerving. I wasn’t sure what I would see in the actual DHS offices.
The DHS building was neat and clean and bureaucratic. It didn’t feel threatening. It felt like I was sitting in the DMV, waiting to get a car registered. The guards were friendly and helpful. It was just another government facility.
I have been reading about protesters demanding the I.C.E be abolished. The slogan “Abolish I.C.E.!” sounds good, but it is an idea that has not been thought out. I.C.E., or something like it, will exist as long as we have borders. Personally, I think that borders are stupid. They are always somewhat ineffective. I remember, many years ago, seeing the Berlin Wall, and thinking that people were still able to get around it, or over it, or under it, or whatever. Borders just keep out (or in) those who are willing to play by the rules. Borders ensure that those who actually do cross are the smartest and the most ruthless.
I am convinced that there are a few people working for I.C.E. who are cruel and heartless. Maybe I am being unfair. I think that most of the I.C.E. agents who rip families apart are probably just people who leave their morality in the parking lot when they clock in for their shift. They are the people who say that “they are just doing their job”. It’s a variation on the old Nuremberg defense, when the Nazis on trial excused their behavior by saying that “they were just following orders”. It’s so easy to justify immoral acts. I know. I’ve done it.
The people working in the building on Knapp Street seemed to be decent folk. Would they arrest somebody for deportation? I don’t know. Maybe, if they had to change their job title, they would. It is hard to tell what any person will do until they are in a situation where they have to make a moral decision.
I took an undocumented immigrant to a court appearance this afternoon. He was nervous and scared. I was too, and I was born in this country. I spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder, not for my own sake, but for the safety of the man who I was escorting. We didn’t see any I.C.E. agents, and we were eager to leave the courthouse once our business was completed.
Overall, it was a good day. Gieselheid passed her test, and I know that I got a man to court and back without anybody getting arrested.
We will call it a “win”.