For those who support President Trump’s immigration policies, #IceBae seems to be a symbol of patriotism, though nobody is separating her service from her race, gender, and appearance. (Fox News reports that “some people” are referring to Cervantes as a Latina hero, but this reporter could only find one tweet doing so.) The vast majority of the supportive tweets are amorous, and a large number of them favorably compare Cervantes’ sex appeal to that of US Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tliab. A Twitter account purporting to belong to Cervantes, which was created the same day as the original #IceBae tweet, has been engaging with these supporters, thanking them and saying she is “in awe” of the attention her photo is receiving. (Cervantes did not immediately respond to request for comment.)
Backlash abounds, but has three primary strains. First, simplest, people have criticized the meme for sexualizing a woman just doing her unsexy job in the first place, especially given the United States’ grimy history of exoticizing women of color. Others have pointed out that many people sharing Cervantes’ image have joked that they’d like to be detained by ICE, which trivializes the experience of migrant detainees, who are living in conditions described by the Department of Homeland Security as “an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS agents and officers, and to those detained.” The harshest critics likened lusting after #IceBae to being smitten with a concentration camp guard. Cervantes reportedly responded to this critique on Twitter, denying that the detention center was a concentration camp but acknowledging the “overpopulation of aliens” at her station, though that tweet seems to have been deleted.
Emma Grey Ellis covers memes, trolls, and other elements of Internet culture for WIRED.
Plenty of people took issue with the Hot Felon meme when it trended, claiming it glorified crime, but it was nothing like the response to #IceBae. Almost instantly, the photo became more metaphor than meme. For one wing of American politics, the lust over #IceBae sums up the problem with the United States in 2019: racism, sexism, apathy, and a willingness to overlook and even celebrate cruelty when it’s politically expedient. From another viewpoint, it’s the fury over #IceBae that represents the rot: outrage culture, political correctness, and a stubborn disregard for the alleged dangers of inclusivity. Simmering underneath all that is the brutal randomness of internet culture, which can idly make meme mountains of any photograph, upending lives and making jokes out of obvious suffering in the process. #IceBae should never have happened, but now that she’s here, she looks a lot like 2019.