When Democrats cry 'Abolish ICE,' they really mean 'abolish borders'

When Democrats cry 'Abolish ICE,' they really mean 'abolish borders'
© Greg Nash

Are we going to have immigration limits or not?

That's the question underlying the calls for the abolition of Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE), the bureau within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for upholding our immigration rules away from the borders.

The push to #AbolishICE is threatening to become a litmus test for Democratic politicians. It has been embraced by presidential hopefuls like Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Trump: ‘Dems have a death wish’ Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal On The Money: Trump rips Fed over rate hikes | Dems fume as consumer agency pick refuses to discuss border policy | Senate panel clears Trump IRS nominee Dems fume as Trump's consumer bureau pick refuses to discuss role in border policy MORE (D-Mass.), as well as other far-left figures such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, actress-turned-New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and a number of House members.


Despite the efforts of some senior Democrats to try to tamp down the anti-borders fervor of their base for fear of political backlash, the energy in the Democratic party is clearly on the far left. In the words of activist Sean McElwee, a co-founder of AbolishICE.org:

"I believe that every Democrat running in the 2020 Presidential Election will have to articulate a vision of a world without ICE."

The most charitable interpretation of the #AbolishICE craze is that it's the left's version of the silly call by some on the right to abolish the IRS. If taxes are still going to be collected, and immigration laws enforced, then changing the initials of the agency doing the work is nothing but a political stunt.

Even if it were simply a political stunt, the push to #AbolishICE would tell us something significant. Republicans who call for dissolving the IRS do so as a way of signaling the depth of their opposition to taxes. Likewise, #AbolishICE is a Democratic candidate's way of communicating to voters that he dislikes immigration limits and the enforcement required to make them meaningful.

But the Democrats calling to eliminate ICE aren't simply engaged in empty posturing. The event that sparked the cascade of Democrats calling for the abolition of the immigration-enforcement agency was the upset victory of socialist Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez in a New York congressional primary. Her call for dissolving ICE is not just about the initials, but about the very laws that these overworked and underappreciated federal officers enforce.

Under the heading "Immigration Justice / Abolish ICE", her campaign website argues "It’s time to abolish ICE, clear the path to citizenship, and protect the rights of families to remain together." The second item in this list means amnesty for illegal aliens, while the third point effectively means that illegal aliens with U.S.-citizen or legal-resident relatives will get to stay.

The push to abolish ICE is the outgrowth of the growing belief on the left that no illegal alien should ever be deported unless they've been convicted of a non-immigration crime. Ocasio-Cortez alluded to this when she wrote that "We have to replace ICE with an updated INS-like structure that handles crime through the same court system we’ve had for well over 100 years." This is gibberish, of course, since INS agents did precisely the same thing as ICE agents working on immigration, most of which did not involve criminal violations of immigration law but civil ones, which are handled by deportation, not imprisonment.

But this view predates the Democrats' latest socialist sweetheart. Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiMeadows calls ex-Trump aide surveillance docs 'potentially groundbreaking development' Pelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress Top Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign MORE (D-Calif.) said back in 2013 "Our view of the law is, if somebody is here without sufficient documentation, that is not reason for deportation." This is objectively false but shows how #AbolishICE grew out of mainstream Democratic party thought.

And more: During one of the Democratic presidential primary debates, Both Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House protests extend into sixth day despite rain Clinton: US is 'losing friends and allies' under Trump Justice Dept releases surveillance applications for former Trump aide MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBernie Sanders mocks Trump: ‘He could change his mind tomorrow’ Sunday shows preview: Questions linger over Trump-Putin summit Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE (I-Vt.) promised not to deport any illegal aliens who didn't have criminal convictions. Here's what they said to Univision anchor/activist Jorge Ramos:

“RAMOS: And that you won't deport immigrants who don't have a criminal record?

“CLINTON: That's what I'm telling you.

. . .

“RAMOS: And can you promise not to deport immigrants who don't have a criminal record?

“SANDERS: I can make that promise.”

The point of abolishing ICE is to end all non-criminal deportations of illegal aliens. That would mean that every foreigner who manages to slip past the Border Patrol or who overstays a visa would be permitted to stay forever, so long as he isn't convicted of an especially heinous crime.

That would render our entire body of immigration law meaningless. The numerical caps on various categories and the requirements to qualify would be irrelevant because there would be no agency to enforce them. #AbolishICE means nothing if not unlimited immigration and open borders.

Unlimited immigration is a defensible, if misguided, goal. But its proponents are not arguing for it honestly, explaining to voters why they should open America's borders to the world's poor. Instead, they're trying to fool voters by hiding behind a hashtag.

Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Follow him on Twitter @MarkSKrikorian. He is the author of “The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal”.