Immigration activists protest against the Maricopa County Sheriff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the county jail in an ongoing effort to get immigration authorities out of the jail Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin, AP

A nationwide movement is afoot to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, as a recent Deseret News report revealed. That this is gaining any traction at all is a sign of how Congress has failed miserably in its job to write meaningful immigration reform legislation.

This further underscores the wisdom of Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s speech at last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. He said members of the House and Senate, too worried about re-election, ignore messy political debates and difficult legislating, preferring instead to push those matters to the courts or the executive branch.

When it comes to immigration, that inclination has affected lives and families, as well as the economy.

ICE was created after 9/11 as part of the new Department of Homeland Security. Its main duty is to enforce immigration laws, which often means the deportation of people who enter the country without proper documentation. But it also performs other functions, such as to investigate and reduce incidences of human trafficking.

On that score, ICE and Homeland Security Investigations made 1,952 arrests in 2016, ending in 1,176 indictments and 631 convictions, according to statistics at ice.gov. Also, 435 human trafficking victims received important assistance after being released from the clutches of their captors.

Unfortunately, this kind of work is overshadowed by deportations that often cruelly separate families and ignore legitimate desires on the part of immigrants simply to work and improve living conditions.

Congress’ stubborn refusal to debate and pass meaningful immigration reform has led to the politicization of ICE, which in turn makes meaningful political solutions more difficult, hurting both those wishing to escape economic and political repression and law enforcement’s legitimate aim to secure the borders against criminals.

For years, dating back at least to the early years of the George W. Bush administration, we have urged Congress to seize the moment on immigration reform and to pass laws that would allow people to legally cross the border as temporary or guest workers. Various ideas have come and gone without receiving so much as a vote.

Most recently, we urged Congress to do this again after families were being separated at the border. Instead, executive orders and court decisions continue to act as de facto laws.

Most often, we hear whispers about how the House or the Senate won’t accept one idea or the other, or how the president might veto a particular bill. We hear how one party or the other would obstruct. But nobody can know the truth of these claims unless they are put to the test through a vote.

" Inaction turns immigration reform into a hot-button political issue each side tries to use for advantage, and for fundraising. "

When it works as designed, the legislative process allows bills to be amended and rewritten to reflect concerns and to garner enough votes for passage. When legislative leaders refuse even to hear an idea because it lacks support before it has been heard, they short-change this process, which, although messy at times, leads to workable solutions.

The result is that inaction turns immigration reform into a hot-button political issue each side tries to use for advantage, and for fundraising.

The current ICE organization may not be the most effective. Putting it under Homeland Security signals that immigrants are to be treated as criminals first. Immigration used to be under the Department of Commerce, reflecting economics both as the driver of immigration and a reason why allowing orderly and temporary work permits is important for agriculture and other industries.

Americans should demand that their representatives begin debating such things.