Last weekend I had dinner at an oyster bar in Burlington, Massachusetts. As we walked across the parking lot, we could see a crowd of people down the street. When we were seated, I asked our server what was going on.

“Oh, it’s probably a protest,” she told me. “There’s an ICE office just down the street.”

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

The Boston field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is, in fact, located in suburban Burlington, hard by the local mall. The Burlington office has been the target of protest demonstrations led by members of the Cambodian community since ICE threatened 10 Massachusetts residents with deportation.

“Don’t do what the Khmer Rouge did to our family,” read a hand-lettered sign held by one of the Cambodian protesters.

ICE has become the focus of a great deal of antipathy because the agency is seen as the enforcement arm of the anti-immigrant policy promulgated by our xenophobic president, much to the approval of his racist followers. Stephen Miller, the president’s senior advisor on immigration, is, after all, a known white nationalist.

The new ICE office at One City Center in Portland has been the target of several demonstrations against the administration policy of separating children from their parents at the border. The demonstrations have been small and peaceful but intense, with citizen activists advocating abolishing ICE and equating the agency with the Gestapo.

A few weeks back, WCSH News Center 6 did a puff piece about the anti-ICE protests, a rather smug, one-sided report in which an ICE agent explained that the One City Center ICE offices are not for immigration detention and deportation, but for criminal investigations of things like narcotics, sex trafficking and gang activities.

“The fact that any of them (ICE agents) have to turn on the TV after doing everything they can to safeguard the great people of Maine and be called the Gestapo and Nazis, it’s appalling to me,” said Jason Molina, acting special agent in charge of New England.

A September poll by Pew Research Center found that 54% of Americans have an unfavorable view of ICE, with 42% holding a favorable view. Compare that to a 55% favorability rating for the IRS, 65% for the CIA, 81% for NASA and 90% for the U.S. Post Office and you see ICE has made itself one of the least respected government agencies.

That’s not the fault of protesters or the media. It must be very disturbing to be unjustly viewed as a stormtrooper, but ICE has only itself and the president to blame. ICE agents enforced immoral administration policies unquestioningly. Saying it’s your job doesn’t make taking children away from their parents right.

Instead of condemning demonstrators, ICE agents should be focusing on changing policies and practices that make them look bad. And instead of soft-pedaling the Portland ICE office, WCSH should have asked a few hard questions:

“Do you understand why people have a negative view of ICE?”

“Do you support the policy of separating families at the border and putting children in cages?”

“Do you understand that it is not illegal to cross international borders to seek asylum?”

“Does ICE,” as agent Molina told Slate last year, “sometimes identify undocumented immigrants as gang members without any evidence just so judges won’t free them on bail?”

Obviously, it’s not fair to paint all ICE agents as villains, but the antipathy toward the agency has been earned. Now ICE needs to start earning some respect.

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