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 PocanHannity decries Green New Deal as 'economically guaranteed-to-be-devastating' Ocasio-Cortez unveils Green New Deal climate resolution Trump’s AIDS turnaround greeted with skepticism by some advocates MORE (Wis.), Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalGoogle to allow employees to sue over discrimination, harassment Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Democrats seek cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill MORE (Wash.) and Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralHere are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown 8-year-old boy dies in CBP custody Hispanic Caucus picks Castro as its next chair 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 John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border 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 BlumenauerDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Businesses need bank accounts — marijuana shops included Dem senator introduces S. 420 bill that would legalize marijuana MORE (Ore.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeDem lawmaker wants to hear Trump's views on how 5G could affect border wall Lawmakers eager for 5G breakthrough The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to watch in tonight's State of the Union | Trump tweets about 'human wall' | How Dems aim to challenge Trump tonight MORE (N.Y.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), José Serrano (N.Y.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall Dems demand briefing, intel on North Korea nuclear talks Trump’s state of emergency declaration imperils defense budget 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Can progressives govern? Dems plan hearing on emergency declaration's impact on military 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 Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Kamala Harris: Trump administration ‘targeting’ California for political purposes Harry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation builds for Mueller report Why Georgia is the place for black migration and politics 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