WASHINGTON — Within days of a political upstart’s surprising primary win against a Democratic Party stalwart in New York, a cluster of Democrats eyeing the 2020 presidential race embraced a key element of the winner’s platform: abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Among them was Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, who told CNN shortly after the June 26 primary, “I don’t think ICE today is working as intended. I believe it has become a deportation force, and I think you should separate the criminal justice from the immigration issues.”
Other people mentioned as possible Democratic presidential candidates, such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California,also discussed replacing ICE.
The chorus followed the upset victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina, over Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., an entrenched party power player who was often mentioned as the next head of House Democrats.
While those jockeying for the support of progressives with an eye toward 2020 see the issue as a winning one, so too does President Donald Trump. He told Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo on Sunday that he loves the issue because it means Democrats are “going to get beaten so badly.” Get rid of ICE, he said, and “you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house.”
Issue could backfire
Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, agrees that the issue could backfire.
“Who are these people?” she said of the candidates who are parroting Ocasio-Cortez. “That’s not the Democratic national party.”
“Are there super-leftists who want to abolish ICE? Sure there are. It’s a reaction to the frustration that they see about this horrendous policy that is ripping families part,” she said. But the anti-ICE message “allows President Trump to paint Democrats as being for open borders.”
Their anger should be directed toward Trump and his “zero tolerance” policy, which directs the Border Patrol to prosecute all illegal border crossers, Cardona said. Their slogan should be “abolish Trump,” she added.
Abolish ICE is actually an organized though nascent movement. It has a website that sells T-shirts and a three-paragraph goal statement adapted from a March piece in the Nation, “It’s Time to Abolish ICE,” by Sean McElwee, a co-founder of the group.
“Our goal is to abolish ICE and create an immigration system divorced from white supremacy, and that respects the dignity of all human beings,” the statement reads. “We are doing this by mainstreaming the idea in political discourse, pushing current elected officials and candidates to adopt abolishing ICE as part of their platform and partnering with organizations and individuals who are at the front lines of immigration advocacy and supporting immigrant communities.”
While progressives have used the issue to position themselves at the vanguard of the Democratic 2020 pack, most Democrats in Congress are not on board. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer opposes the idea. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., told CNN Sunday, “I think there’s a lot of other things we can do before we get to that point.”
Even Sen. Bernie Sanders said he opposes Abolish ICE, and that won him a piece in The New Republic under the headline “Bernie Sanders Is Not the Left.”
‘All over the place’
“It’s clear that Democrats are all over the place,” said GOP strategist and CNN contributor Alice Stewart.
“This weekend was a classic case of what not to do,” she said. Protests in cities across the country, including Las Vegas, provided powerful optics that could have kept the focus on the separation of more than 2,000 children from their families at the border, but much of the attention was diverted to the abolish ICE movement, she noted.
If you don’t have a plan to replace ICE with another enforcement agency, Stewart added, “you’re saying you’re OK with open borders.”
Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said the topic has not come up in any of his discussions.
“It’s a political tool being used by four or five Democrats,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”
Health care will be a bigger issue, Maslin said, adding that he has no opinion on whether the issue will help or hurt candidates.
But Stewart predicted, “If they’re going to move so far to the left to win these primaries, they’re not going to be successful in the general.”
It was only five years ago, Cardona noted, that the Democratic Senate, with the aid of some Republicans, passed a compromise immigration bill that would have boosted border security funding. But then-House Speaker John Boehner would not bring it to a floor vote.
Last week, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., announced he would introduce legislation to abolish ICE.
“Unfortunately, President Trump and his team of white nationalists, including Stephen Miller, have so misused ICE that the agency can no longer accomplish its goals effectively,” Pocan said in a statement announcing the long-shot bill. “I’m introducing legislation that would abolish ICE and crack down on the agency’s blanket directive to target and round up individuals and families.”
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“Sen. Heller is against abolishing ICE. This agency within the Department of Homeland Security plays an important role in identifying and combating human trafficking, drug trafficking, potential terrorists, cybercriminals, and child predators. While he believes that our immigration system is broken and in need of significant reform, abolishing this agency is not the answer. Sen. Heller remains focused on solutions, such as legislation that he introduced to make the policy of keeping families together permanent, and hopes that Senate Democrats will help him send the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act to the president’s desk.”
— Megan Taylor, spokeswoman for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
So does Rosen
“Jacky doesn’t believe abolishing ICE is the right way to fix the Trump administration’s harmful policies and cruel anti-immigrant agenda. The agency is responsible for more than just immigration enforcement, also overseeing areas like cybercrime investigations and counterterrorism work. Jacky strongly believes we need comprehensive immigration reform that improves border security in smart ways, grows Nevada’s economy, and provides a path to full and equal citizenship.”
— Molly Forgey, spokeswoman for Senate campaign of Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.