Protesters at ICE facilities sometimes chant “quit your job” at agents outside the lockups. Now an activist group is taking the message further: they’ll help ICE agents quit and find new jobs.
Since its launch this summer, the immigrant-rights group Never Again Action has held regular protests outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. There have been confrontational encounters with agents, but also conversations that left activists wondering whether ICE employees might abandon the agency.
On Monday, Never Again Action’s Atlanta branch put that question to the test with a career services program for ICE agents who wanted to quit. Within 24 hours, two immigration employees had asked for help leaving their roles, the organization says.
Emily Baselt, an organizer with Never Again Atlanta, began considering the program in July, after a protest outside ICE’s Atlanta field office.
“A lot of the protesters were chanting ‘quit your job,’” Baselt told The Daily Beast. “I saw an interaction between one protester and a relatively young DHS [Department of Homeland Security] agent who was standing outside the building […] The protester was asking him whether he was OK with what was happening at the border, if he was OK with kids in cages.”
The agent seemed conflicted, she said. “I could tell he was kind of wrestling with this a little bit.”
Morale in U.S. immigration agencies is reportedly low and sinking, likely a side effect of the Trump administration’s aggressive policies. Though President Donald Trump signed an order purporting to end a policy of family separations at the border last year, the separations reportedly continue under a loophole. The recent deaths of at least seven children in Customs and Border Patrol centers highlighted inhumane conditions, and an August ICE raid on Mississippi chicken factories became the largest workplace mass arrest in at least a decade.
In the CBP, which is a separate agency from ICE, plunging morale has reportedly contributed to an outbreak of officer suicides.
“My continuing thought has been that this level of activity combined with the disastrous policy of wholesale separating children from parents has a very negative impact on CBP personnel. They did not join to take a 2-year-old from his mother,” former CBP commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told Quartz in July.
Baselt said she is sure some people became ICE agents did so because they supported the agency’s mission. But she wondered whether other agents were eyeing the exits.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that it’s easy to say ‘quit your job,’ but it’s not always easy to walk out like that,” she said.
She and other Atlanta activists were inspired by the career services departments at universities, and wondered whether they could also provide career guidance for disillusioned ICE agents. On Monday, the Atlanta group launched a website that matches ICE agents with confidential career advisers, and held a demonstration advertising the website outside the Atlanta ICE field office. The launch date also had religious significance for Never Again Action, a Jewish-led group, since it went live the day before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.
The launch went viral on Twitter—mostly to a positive reception, although it caught some flak from the left. “We’ve had a couple people criticize it, saying that if they want to quit, they should just quit,” Baselt said.
But for at least two fed-up agents, the campaign was a welcome one. “Within maybe three hours of launching, we got our first request from a conscientious objector who wants help defecting,” Baselt said on Tuesday.
Although the campaign launched in Atlanta, both agents who asked for help changing careers worked elsewhere in the U.S., she added.
“Based on the two people who reached out to us, there are definitely people there who don’t want to be there,” Baselt added. “The defector who came in overnight is a Customs and Border Patrol agent who has been there for many years. The comment that person left was something like ‘I’m drowning in this place.’”