Cartoon: New Recruits’ Vow

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I’m not sure that I’ve ever done a cartoon about ICE before, and I’ve really wanted to, but it’s been hard for me to think one up.

ICE is genuinely one of the most evil branches of the U.S. government; they’re needlessly martial, needlessly cruel, and far overfunded. If you pay attention to ICE in your newsreading, you’ll hear of outrages virtually every week. It’s one of those topics that gets me so enraged that I just see red and then it’s really hard to make up a cartoon, and so I end up doing a cartoon about something else.

(But what would we do without ICE, you might ask? Remember that ICE is a relatively new agency, created in the panic following 9/11. Before that we had the INS, and as bad as the INS was, its culture didn’t seem as combative or as dismissive of the humanity of the immigrants it dealt with.)

(“Not as bad as ICE” is, admittedly, not a high bar.)

I think the art for this one is decent. I’m definitely leaning hard into the “bighead figures” drawing this year. It’s not necessarily the most fun style for me to draw, but something about the contrast between the horrible things my cartoons are about, and the extreme cuteness of the drawing style, adds an extra punch to the cartoons. Or that’s the theory I’m working from for now. :-)

Transcript of Cartoon

This is a four-panel cartoon.

PANEL ONE shows two women, one wearing a long open-front sweater and a polka dot skirt, the other wearing pants and a long-sleeved v neck shirt. The woman with the polka dot skirt is reading aloud from something on her smartphone. The woman in the v-neck shirt is listening, hand on her chin.

DOTS: Listen to the vow this group makes new recruits take! “I swear I will have no mercy for brown people…”

A close-up of Dots as she continues reading from her phone. She looks a bit angry.

DOTS: “I will throw them into prison without due process. I will pull their crying children from their arms.”

A shot of the two of them. Dots continues to read from her phone. V-Neck interrupts, looking horrified, her eyes wide and her hands on her cheeks.

DOTS: “I will spread fear and desperation. I will…”
V-NECK: What nightmare group is this? The Klan? The Nazis?

A middle-aged man with a mustache and wearing a suit, stands behind a podium, talking to a crowd of people. The front of the podium has the Department of Homeland Security seal, and the word “ICE.”

MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to ICE!

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12 Responses to Cartoon: New Recruits’ Vow

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    I’m curious as to what document or statement the vow that the young woman is quoting comes from.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    It’s a completely made-up vow. With all due respect, I think it’s over-the-top enough to be obviously fake.

  3. 3
    Tpar says:

    “It’s a completely made-up vow.”

    I’ve seen this enough in your cartoons to be able to say that it’s a habit on your part.

    I don’t think you’d like it if someone on the “other political side” did this kind of thing. Essentially asserting a made-up argument to the other side – that they may not even be thinking – and then self-righteously hammering it down to the cheers of the like-minded on your side.

    Why do you even do that? What’s the point? You are not refuting arguments of the “other side”, you are just doing … something … that allows your followers to feel victory in some weird way.

  4. 4
    LimitsOfLanguage says:


    1. Do you believe that ICE doesn’t deport any whites?
    2. Do you believe that ICE distinguishes between white and non-white Hispanics?

  5. 5
    Celeste says:

    There is a type of criticism of Ampersand’s cartoons that can be boiled down to “I am pretending that I have never encountered a political cartoon before, and I’m going to criticize it as though it were factual reporting.”

    The interesting thing about this type of criticism is that I don’t think anyone involved – not the author, not the readers, not Ampersand – believes for a moment that it’s sincere. I certainly don’t.

    I mean: “In Benjamin Franklin’s Join or Die, he portrays the 13 colonies as though they were a snake that had been sliced into pieces and must be rejoined. This despite the fact that the colonies are not a snake and indeed are not a living creature at all! ”

    Of course there’s not a literal vow, any more than the colonies were literally a snake. Ampersand was accurately describing the actions ICE takes. That’s not inventing a made-up argument. That’s holding up a mirror.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    LimitsOfLanguage: No, and probably yes, but as unwritten discrimination, not as official policy.

    Celeste: Thanks! I entirely agree.

  7. 7
    LimitsOfLanguage says:


    Is that your impression or do you have have solid evidence for that claim? Also, is it correct that your actual belief is that ICE has less mercy for ‘brown people’ than for others, not that they have mercy for white immigrants, which your cartoon implies?

    Note that the Trump administration seems to have greatly increased deportations of Europeans as well (who are presumably usually white). I would argue that the way in which Denis Davydov was treated, according to the article, fits what you described in panel 2 (“I will throw them into prison without due process”)?

  8. 8
    Gracchus says:

    While I realise that the ICE doesn’t literally have people swear an oath that involves all this, the cartoon is still a bit… unsubtle?

    Like, the substance of what you’re saying is of course true, ICE is terrible. But it seems the cartoon focuses a little too much on the horror of the particular act of oath-swearing, which is figurative.

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    That may be! I’ve found this a difficult subject to approach. I’m sure I’ll try again, from another angle, at some point.

  10. 10
    Mandolin says:

    If I were writing this cartoon, then I would have had an ICE agent giving the speech (or an ICE recruit), followed by a higher-level ICE agent saying in the fourth panel, “You’re not supposed to say that part OUT LOUD.”

    I think this better gets across the idea that ICE supports these ideas without making it seem like the pledge is allegedly real. Also, it assigns agency to the ICE people, rather than to others whose investment in the situation is undefined.

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    If I were writing this cartoon, then I would have had an ICE agent giving the speech (or an ICE recruit), followed by a higher-level ICE agent saying in the fourth panel, “You’re not supposed to say that part OUT LOUD.”

    Yup, that would have been better. I might steal something like that for a future cartoon. :-)

  12. 12
    Chris says:

    One thing I like about most of your cartoons, Barry, is that typically even the characters spouting the most ridiculous arguments come across as human, with human motivations like ignorance, greed, spite, selfishness, or well-intentioned sanctimony. But there’s always a subtle twist to the words coming out of their mouths that exposes how ridiculous their arguments are and the petty emotions they are based on. The “Obamacare didn’t help nearly as many people as promised!” person from your other recent cartoon is a great example of that, as that’s what so many anti-ACA arguments boil down to.

    I don’t feel like this one does that—the vow is so cartoonishly evil that I can’t read the characters as real people. But, you may counter, ICE really is that evil—they do all these things. Yes, but they do them for a reason, and I think it would be more interesting to take a satirical look at what those reasons are—maybe in the “10 Reasons Why” format you excel at—instead of ignoring the arguments and positing that ICE operates out of nothing but the desire to be cruel. Certainly SOME ICE Agents do, but I’d imagine most of them, and most of their supporters, believe they are forces for good, and it might be more helpful to understand their reasons for believing that and expose those reasons as the bullshit they are.

    I also didn’t feel a sense of forward momentum or surprise in this cartoon—the punchline was obvious from the start, so it just reads like a list of bad things ICE does. Mandolin’s suggestion would fix this.

    Celeste—One thing I like about Amp is how open to constructive criticism he is. I think he gets more criticism than most political cartoonists because he opens himself up to it more. While you’re right that political cartoons (and satire more generally) operate on analogy, we also all recognize that some analogies are fair and some aren’t. The snake metaphor you mention can’t be misread as a statement that the colonies really are a snake, but I think Amp’s cartoon can be misread as arguing that ICE Agents really seek out to do these horrendous things out of pure malice. I don’t even necessarily want to argue against that premise, but it’s one that’s so open for debate that I spent the cartoon thinking of all the ways it would be attacked as a strawman rather than enjoying it, which is why this one didn’t work for me as much as most of Amp’s cartoons. It isn’t funny enough to defend itself from the criticism it invites.