Progressive politicians in New York City and Washington, DC, are starting to follow the lead of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by calling to abolish US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more commonly known as ICE.
Since Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary defeat of Democratic New York Rep. Joe Crowley on Tuesday night, more left-leaning politicians have adopted a main tenet of the 28-year-old democratic socialist Latina’s immigration platform: a call to abolish ICE.
The end of the week saw two high-profile politicians sign on: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Gillibrand, who is considered a potential 2020 candidate for president, just threw down a gauntlet for her colleagues in the Senate.
Over in the US House, there’s already a bill being drafted by progressive Democrats to accomplish the goal. (It won’t go anywhere in a Republican-led Congress, or be signed by a president who loves ICE and the work it’s doing.)
Viewed as a very left-wing position until this week, abolishing ICE is starting to move further into the Democratic mainstream. What’s unclear is how many more Democrats will take up the cause.
Here is a list of Democrats who have signed on so far:
It’s unclear whether the calls to abolish ICE would have reached Gillibrand and De Blasio were it not for candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Joe Crowley in his primary this week. (As the Democratic nominee in a heavily blue district, she’s almost surely headed to the House in the fall.)
Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old socialist Latina candidate who made abolishing ICE one of the main issues of her platform. To be clear, Ocasio-Cortez isn’t calling for open borders, but she’s saying there needs to be less focus on immigration enforcement and more focus on security.
“In a similar way where we have law enforcement enforce legitimate crimes of violence, crimes of harm, mass, large fraud,” Ocasio-Cortez told Documented NY. “I think that there is a role for enforcement there, but I do not think that it in any way is equivocal to what we are seeing with ICE right now.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Gillibrand became the first US senator to publicly call for abolishing ICE during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Gillibrand was responding to a question of whether she would support Ocasio-Cortez’s call to abolish ICE.
“Well, I agree with it. I don’t think ICE today is working as intended,” Gillibrand said. “I believe that it has become a deportation force. And I think you should separate out the criminal justice from the immigration issues.”
Gillibrand advocated for government officials to “reimagine ICE” as a new agency whose dual missions of criminal justice (i.e., tracking down national security threats, child pornographers, and crime across borders) and immigration enforcement. Numerous ICE agents have advocated this approach of splitting the agency, concerned that their resources are going primarily towards immigration under Trump.
“So we believe that we should protect families that need our help and that is not what ICE is doing today,” Gillibrand said. “And that’s why I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works.”
Gillibrand is one of the names floating as a possible 2020 presidential contender, but she’s the only one in the pack that has advocated for abolishing ICE.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio came out with a call to abolish and significantly reform ICE on a Friday segment of WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. Again, De Blasio’s call stemmed from a question Lehrer posed about Ocasio-Cortez’s position on the issue.
De Blasio, a longtime progressive politician who nevertheless supported Ocasio-Cortez’s opponent, said he agreed with her stance, saying the government needs to get rid of the agency and “create something better, something different.”
“It’s no longer acceptable,” he said of the agency. “You need some kind of agency to deal with immigration, but ICE is not that. ICE has proven it can’t be that. ICE’s time has come and gone. It is broken, it has been sent on a very negative, divisive mission, and it cannot function the way it is.”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Pocan is one of the most prominent progressive Democrats in the House and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He is currently drafting on a bill that would get rid of the agency, while at the same time setting up a commission to look at replacement options.
Pocan’s conclusion: ICE should not be an agency whose mission is to separate undocumented families, whether at the southern border or in communities around the United States.
“During my trip to the southern 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.”
Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Mike Capuano (D-MA) have all indicated they would support the legislation.