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4 incumbent Democrats join calls to abolish ICE

"From conducting raids at garden centers and meatpacking plants, to breaking up families at churches and schools, ICE is tearing apart families and ripping at the moral fabric of our nation."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., walks down the House steps following a vote in the Capitol on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., walks down the House steps following a vote in the Capitol on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

It’s time to abolish ICE, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) said in a statement Monday morning, becoming the fourth Democratic incumbent representative to call for the elimination of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after a recent trip to the border.

“It was clear that ICE, and its actions of hunting down and tearing apart families, has wreaked havoc on far too many people,” Pocan said in a statement. “From conducting raids at garden centers and meatpacking plants, to breaking up families at churches and schools, ICE is tearing apart families and ripping at the moral fabric of our nation.”

Pocan went on to say that “President Trump and his team of white nationalists… have so misused ICE that the agency can no longer accomplish its goals effectively.”

The congressman plans to introduce legislation that would abolish the agency, he said.

Pocan’s call for the shutdown of ICE comes just hours after Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) published a post on Medium Sunday night in which he too suggests abolishing ICE and starting over, joining two of his House colleagues and a number of progressive Democrats running for office this year.

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Calls to abolish ICE have begun to roll in after weeks of uproar about the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. After formally implementing the policy last month, Trump signed an unnecessary executive order ending family separation in favor of indefinite family detention. There is no plan to reunite families already separated.

But family separation is only the latest instance of ICE abuses. In January, The Outline’s Gaby Del Valle reported that asylum seekers are being sexually assaulted in U.S. detention, and an Intercept report from April found 1,224 complains of sexual abuse in immigration detention centers. Half of the accused abusers worked for ICE.

On Sunday, Blumenauer compared abolishing the agency to “a phone app that’s not working properly, or a computer program that freezes the machine.”

“What do you do?” he wrote. “Lesson number one: shut it down. It works for computers. Maybe that’s what we need to do with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies that are failing us in the Department of Homeland Security.”

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Blumenauer voted against the formation of the agency in 2002 under former President George W. Bush, and on Sunday he called for immigration reform that prioritizes treating people with compassion and respect, saying not only is it “the moral thing to do, but it’s better policy and will cost less.”

Blumenauer joins his colleagues Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) in calling for ICE’s elimination.

In an interview with Democracy Now last Tuesday, Jayapal called for Trump to end his family separation policy and was asked if she supports abolishing ICE.

“I did a report back in 2008 on the abuses within the ICE detention system. I have a bill to reform the detention facility overall,” Jayapal responded, adding, “and, yes, I would love to see ICE go.”

McGovern joined her Saturday, saying at an event that “ICE has turned into something that is not about enforcing immigration laws, has turned into something that is ripping families apart.”

“The time has come to re-evaluate what we have in place,” he said. “To get rid of ICE.”

Several other incumbent Democrats have said they support “re-evaluating” ICE, but haven’t gone so far as to call for its abolition.

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On Sunday in an interview with MSNBC, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is widely considered a likely presidential candidate in 2020, said she thinks there is “no question that we’ve got to critically re-examine ICE and its role, and the way that it is being administered and the work it is doing.”

“And we need to probably think about starting from scratch,” she added.

Harris’s remarks Sunday are a notable change from her comments earlier this year, when she said on the same network that “ICE has a purpose, ICE has a role [and] ICE should exist.”

“But let’s not abuse the power,” she said. “Let’s not extend it to areas that are not posing a threat to the safety and the public safety of these communities.”

As The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick noted Sunday night, several other high profile Democrats faced questions about abolishing ICE this week, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who said he believes we need to “create policies which deal with immigration in a rational way,” but did not go so far as to call for eliminating the agency.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) was asked about Harris’s call to “re-examine” ICE, and said he doesn’t think that abolishing the agency entirely “makes a lot of sense,” but added, “I do think looking at it makes a hell of a lot of sense.”

“I don’t know how you abolish an agency without abolishing the function, and I think the function is necessary,” King said. “As far as what Senator Harris said about examining what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, I think that’s absolutely something we should do. That’s our responsibility to provide oversight. But ultimately, there’s going to have to be an agency.”

The calls for abolition have gained the most traction with progressive candidates running for office, as nearly 30 candidates running this cycle — in both congressional and gubernatorial races — have expressed support for ICE’s abolition.

Writer Sean McElwee is tracking candidates who share the position, including Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, who is running to replace retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), as well as Deb Halaand in New Mexico, and Cynthia Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.