House Democrats Introduce First Bill to Abolish ICE

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks after the Democratic policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 10, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

House Democrats introduced legislation on Thursday that would abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the first legislative manifestation of the anti-ICE rhetoric that has increasingly captivated Democrats in recent weeks.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Mark Pocan (D., Wisc.), provides Congress one year to terminate ICE in favor of a more “humane immigration enforcement system.” In practice, the legislation would empower a special commission to redesign the system for handling asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, absent any role for the White House.

The commission would comprise eight lawmakers from both parties as well as nine members selected from “major civil society and immigrants’ rights organizations and individuals directly impacted by ICE practices.”

“The ICE brand has been so damaged by the president that it can no longer accomplish its original mission,” Pocan said, reiterating a message that has become increasingly common among progressive Democrats. “Even ICE agents recognize that ICE doesn’t do what it was intended to.”

The commission would be tasked with identifying “all essential functions of ICE that uphold the Constitution,” and “the appropriate federal agencies that shall be tasked with executing activities such as combating financial crimes, cybercrimes, trade fraud, human trafficking and drug smuggling.”

The panel would then have the autonomy to determine which functions of ICE are not justified and as such should be discontinued.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration-enforcement policy, which resulted in the separation of some 2,000 children from their parents, what began as a fringe position — the abolition of ICE — slowly gained ground among prominent Democrats.

The anti-ICE messaging, which Democratic leadership has proven hesitant to endorse, was bolstered by the primary victory of progressive congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has fully embraced the notion that ICE should be abolished as part of a broader reconstitution of the immigration system.

Prominent Democratic senators, and 2020 presidential hopefuls, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Corey Booker of New Jersey, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have followed Ocasio-Cortez in calling for the agency to be abolished.

House speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday at his weekly news conference that calling for the abolition of ICE was “the craziest position” he’s seen during his time in politics, adding that the Democrats “have really jumped the shark” and he feels “very good” about his party’s chances in the midterms.

A recent poll conducted by Politico found that 25 percent of voters would like to see ICE abolished.

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