Sen. Sanders calls for restructuring ICE as part of immigration overhaul

Sen. Sanders calls for restructuring ICE as part of immigration overhaul
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director MORE (I-Vt.) on Tuesday called for restructuring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of a broader immigration overhaul, but he stopped short of calling for the elimination of the federal agency.

In a series of tweets, Sanders escalated his rhetoric opposing ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as more lawmakers on the left call for the agency to be abolished.

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"In 2002 I voted against the creation of DHS and the establishment of ICE," Sanders tweeted. "That was the right vote. Now, it is time to do what Americans overwhelmingly want: abolish the cruel, dysfunctional immigration system we have today and pass comprehensive immigration reform."

"That will mean restructuring the agencies that enforce our immigration laws, including ICE," he added. "We must not be about tearing small children away from their families. We must not be about deporting DREAMers, young people who have lived in this country virtually their entire lives."

Sanders's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the senator supports eliminating ICE before comprehensive immigration reform is enacted.

Sanders, who's considered a likely Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, has faced pressure and criticism from the left after he declined to call for ICE to be abolished.

"I think what we need is to create policies which deal with immigration in a rational way," Sanders said in a CNN interview on June 24. "And a rational way is not locking children up in detention centers or separating them from their mothers."

"What we need is Trump to sit down with members of Congress and work on a rational program which deals with a serious issue," he added.

The issue has become a new litmus test for Democrats, particularly those thought to be weighing a presidential run in 2020.

Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' MORE (N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump MORE (Mass.) have in recent days come out in favor of abolishing ICE, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive MORE (Calif.) said the agency should be "critically re-examined."

Other Democrats have said they support examining the methods used by ICE, while noting that an agency is needed to enforce immigration laws.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE has seized on the issue, saying Democratic support for abolishing ICE will ultimately hurt the party in November's midterm elections.