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Dems introduce bill to eliminate ICE, shift duties elsewhere

Dems introduce bill to eliminate ICE, shift duties elsewhere

A group of liberal House Democrats on Thursday introduced legislation to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and shift the bureau’s various duties to other federal agencies.

The new proposal, unveiled by Democratic Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Progressives grumble but won't sink relief bill over fewer stimulus checks Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (Wis.), Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProgressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (Wash.) and Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralLawmakers remember actress Cicely Tyson Over 40 lawmakers sign letter urging Merrick Garland to prioritize abolishing death penalty The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (N.Y.), is the first piece of legislation to tackle the thorny issue, which has become a political lightning rod on both sides of the ideological spectrum in recent weeks. 

Liberal Democrats have latched on to the “Abolish ICE” movement to protest President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE’s aggressive approach to deportations, while Republicans have hammered the effort as a soft-on-crime strategy that threatens public safety.

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The bill’s supporters contend that ICE, which was launched in 2003 as part of the creation of the Homeland Security Department, has become “militarized” in its approach to deporting immigrants under the Trump administration. They’re pointing to recent high-profile raids on undocumented workers, reports of substandard detention facilities and the ongoing saga of family separations at the border as evidence that ICE has lost its compass and needs to be scrapped.

“President Trump’s blanket directive to round up and target all undocumented immigrants underscores the unchecked power which ICE has used to terrorize our communities,” Pocan said in a statement. “From conducting raids at garden centers and meatpacking plants, to targeting families outside churches and schools, the President is using ICE as a mass-deportation force to rip apart the moral fabric of our nation.”

The Democrats’ bill, dubbed the Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act, would create a commission to examine ICE’s various responsibilities and recommend transferring them to other agencies. Aside from enforcing immigration laws, the agency is also charged with a host of less controversial duties, including the policing of money laundering, cyber crimes, human trafficking and transnational gangs. The Democrats contend other departments — including Justice, Commerce and Health and Human Services — are better equipped to handle those responsibilities.

Congress would then be required to act on the commission's recommendations, and ICE would be eliminated within a year.

“The agency has a very broad jurisdiction and was created to combat terrorism, human trafficking, and drugs. Yet, ICE now spends the majority of its time detaining and separating mothers and fathers seeking safety for themselves and their children,” said Espaillat. “We are witnessing a human rights crisis, and our bill would bring forward a new model and dismantle ICE once and for all.”

Other co-sponsors of the legislation, which has little chance of advancing in the Republican-controlled House, include Democratic Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerMomentum is growing towards investing in America's crumbling infrastructure Five things Biden should do to tackle the climate emergency Bipartisan bill to provide 0B in coronavirus relief for restaurants reintroduced MORE (Ore.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeLawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation DHS announces new measures to boost nation's cybersecurity Hassan to chair Senate emerging threats subcommittee MORE (N.Y.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), José Serrano (N.Y.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military MORE (Wash.) and Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.).

Once a fringe movement, the “Abolish ICE” campaign took off last month after the stunning primary defeat of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young Hispanic activist who made the elimination of ICE — and the reallocation of its duties — a central component of her campaign. She’s calling for “a different name and a different approach.”

“Once ICE was established, we really kind of militarized that enforcement to a degree that was previously unseen in the United States,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR late last month.

The movement has received a cold reception from top Democratic leaders, including Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Andrew Yang condemns attacks against Asian Americans Congress in lockdown: Will we just 'get used to it'? MORE (D-Calif.), who have both raised red flags about the message that “Abolish ICE” might send. They’re calling for ICE to refocus its energies, without terminating the agency altogether.

But a handful of liberal lawmakers has joined the effort, including a number of potential 2020 presidential contenders hoping to attract support from the Democratic Party’s liberal base. The list of supporters includes New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandABC names new deputy political director, weekend White House correspondent The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate Dems face unity test; Tanden nomination falls MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory BookerIt's in America's best interest to lead global COVID-19 vaccine distribution ABC names new deputy political director, weekend White House correspondent NJ lawmakers ask Gannett to stop 'union-busting' efforts at 3 state newspapers MORE (N.J.).

Republicans have wasted no time launching a countereffort to characterize the “Abolish ICE” supporters — and all Democrats by extension — as soft on crime.

Delivering that message last week was Vice President Pence, who told a group of ICE employees that the administration is “with you 100 percent.”

“Under President Donald Trump, we will never abolish ICE,” he said.

Read more from The Hill: 

House GOP to bring Dem ‘abolish ICE’ bill up for vote