After years of tension, ICE is out of Government Employees union
Workers are escorted onto a bus for transportation to a processing center following a raid by US immigration officials at a Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Mississippi, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The raids reflect cooperation between ICE and unscrupulous employers who hire undocumented workers, pay them less than the law requires, thereby depressing the wages of documented workers and then often kicking the undocumented out of the country before they are even paid. | Rogelio V. Solis/AP

WASHINGTON—After years of tension between the Government Employees (AFGE) and its unit of 7,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the parent union made “the difficult decision” to let the ICE agents leave both it and the AFL-CIO, AFGE President Everett Kelley has announced.

The July 12 statement said AFGE formally told the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees labor-management relations between federal worker unions and federal bosses, that it is “disclaiming interest” in representing the agents. FLRA must approve the move, but AFGE said that’s routine.

“It is clear AFGE Council 118,” the ICE agents’ unit, “remains steadfast in their desire to no longer be a part of AFGE or the broader labor movement,” Kelley said. “As a result, we made the difficult decision to disclaim interest in this unit. While we had hoped to avoid this outcome, today’s action begins the process of granting Council 118’s request.”

This news comes after the ICE agents have been trying to disaffiliate from their parent union, as well as the AFL-CIO for some time

Many in the labor and immigrant rights movements believe it is high time that the ICE unit be cut off from the union movement. They have argued that the racist and anti-immigrant behavior of ICE is antithetical to the purposes of the legitimate labor movement which they see as extending full rights to all workers in the nation, including those who are undocumented. Anything short of that, the AFL-CIO itself has argued, opens the door to exploitation of all workers in the country.

The decision to let the local representing ICE workers leave the union should not have been “difficult” at all since ICE has and continues to terrorize poor, working-class, and immigrant workers, negating its right to have a place in the labor movement.

ICE agents have joined in efforts that result in the deaths of immigrant workers so their leaving the U.S. labor movement is in no way a loss to the labor movement.

Chris Crane, president of the ICE unit, essentially confirmed this viewpoint  when he said his members “are sick of being labeled Nazis and racists by fellow unionists.” Crane outrageously claimed both AFGE and the AFL-CIO “foster hate and prejudice” against the ICE agents and do not adequately represent them, he claimed, as labor law mandates.

In prior interviews with the right-wing Washington Examiner and The Washington Times, Crane also accused both the union and the AFL-CIO of financial mismanagement. “AFGE and the AFL-CIO became far-left organizations a long time ago,” he told the Times. “They don’t care about workers. They only care about their far-left agendas and politics.”

The break has been a long time coming. Under Crane’s outspoken misleadership, the ICE agents unit became one of only two bodies within organized labor to endorse Republican Donald Trump in both of his runs for the White House. The other is the International Union of Police Associations, which is much smaller than the non-union Federation of Police. And the ICE unit often endorses anti-migrant hardliners for Congress, too.

ICE’s reason for strongly backing Trump was the Republican’s anti-migrant policies, which were clearly racist. ICE agents enforced them with enthusiasm. Employers scheming to repress organizing drives among Spanish-speaking workers often threaten them with ICE raids, then call ICE agents in, especially to meatpacking plants.

On his last full day in the Oval Office, Trump signed off on a seven-year contract between the ICE agents unit and acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, himself a noted anti-migrant hardliner. The pact would have given the unit virtual veto power over enforcement, despite its bosses in DHS, of whatever party.

Within weeks of taking office, President Biden dumped the contract. He’s also trying, with a mixed record, to revoke some of Trump’s anti-migrant policies. And Biden and the Democratic-run Congress stopped construction of Trump’s Mexican Wall, a project the ICE agents unit strongly favors.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.