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 PocanOvernight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight House panel advances 6B Pentagon bill on party-line vote Democratic tensions simmer in House between left, center MORE (Wis.), Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Schumer feels pressure from all sides on spending strategy Liberal House Democrats urge Schumer to stick to infrastructure ultimatum MORE (Wash.) and Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralNYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency The Memo: Harris, Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic divide on immigration House Democrats introduce bill to close existing gun loopholes and prevent mass shootings 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 TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race 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 BlumenauerLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection On The Money: Schumer pressured from all sides on spending strategy | GOP hammers HUD chief over sluggish rental aid | Democrat proposes taxes on commercial space flights Hillicon Valley: Biden to appoint Big Tech critic to DOJ antitrust role | House passes host of bills to strengthen cybersecurity in wake of attacks | Bezos returns from flight to space MORE (Ore.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeHouse passes host of bills to strengthen cybersecurity in wake of attacks Haiti Caucus: Forging path out of crisis will not be quick, but necessary to avoid false 'democracy' US lawmakers express shock at Haitian president's assassination MORE (N.Y.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), José Serrano (N.Y.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithSenate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget Back to '70s inflation? How Biden's spending spree will hurt your wallet Military braces for sea change on justice reform 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 Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse rejects GOP effort to seat McCarthy's picks for Jan. 6 panel GOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work 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 GillibrandEquilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Congress can make progress on fighting emissions with Zero Food Waste Act 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