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Occupy ICE protests have spread from Portland, Ore., to Detroit and New York. Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement against economic inequality, these protesters are targeting one government agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it's a growing movement. A number of elected officials have called for the agency to be abolished. Even some agents inside ICE say it may be time to radically reorganize. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Protesters took to the streets outside ICE's headquarters in Washington, D.C., this week.
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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Shut down ICE. Shut down ICE. Shut down ICE.
ROSE: Tameem Fructer (ph) wanted to send a message to the agents on the front line of the Trump administration's immigration crackdown.
TAMEEM FRUCTER: ICE is enacting this unacceptable violence on families, on children, on human beings.
ROSE: In New York, ICE had to cancel some immigration court hearings earlier this week when protesters blocked the entrance to its offices. In Portland, Occupy ICE protesters succeeded in shutting down their local immigration office for days. Organizer Jacob Bureros laid out what the protesters want.
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JACOB BUREROS: Is the complete abolishment of ICE.
BUREROS: It has not been around that long, and it does not need to exist.
ROSE: ICE was created along with the Department of Homeland Security just 15 years ago. And now a handful of Democratic lawmakers in Congress think it should be eliminated or reorganized to deport fewer immigrants. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it a central plank of the campaign that led to her upset victory in New York's congressional primary this week. She spoke to NPR's Morning Edition.
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ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: What we're really talking about is reimagining immigration to be humane and in a way that is transparent and accountable.
ROSE: Immigration hard-liners praise ICE, saying it's finally enforcing the laws on the books, and not much is likely to change under President Trump. Here he is at a rally this week in North Dakota.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, our ICE officers - they're tough. I gotta say it. It's not nice, but their mean. But they have heart.
ROSE: ICE is a sprawling agency with 20,000 employees divided into two main branches, one that handles deportation and detention and another that handles criminal investigations against traffickers and drug cartels. More than a dozen special agents from the second branch recently sent a letter to the homeland security secretary arguing that splitting from the rest of ICE would help morale and improve their ability to work in cities where Trump's policies are unpopular.
JERRY ROBINETTE: What you see and what you read in a letter is accurate. It's something that's been going on for a while.
ROSE: Jerry Robinette is a former special agent in charge of ICE-Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio. He says the two branches have long competed for resources, and he can see why some agents want to break up ICE, but...
ROBINETTE: I don't think the timing is correct right now, think there's too many things going on, all the rhetoric that you're getting from the left on dissolving ICE.
ROSE: At a time like this, Robinette says, it's even more important for agents to focus on their mission. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.