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 SandersWarren to protest with striking Chicago teachers Sanders: 'Outrageous' to suggest Gabbard 'is a foreign asset' Democratic strategist: Sanders seeking distance from Warren could 'backfire' 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 GillibrandSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick MORE (N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren to protest with striking Chicago teachers Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Four companies reach 0M settlement in opioid lawsuit | Deal opens door to larger settlements | House panel to consider vaping tax | Drug pricing markup tomorrow On The Money: Trump dismisses 'phony Emoluments Clause' after Doral criticism | Senate Dems signal support for domestic spending package | House panel to consider vaping tax MORE (Mass.) have in recent days come out in favor of abolishing ICE, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisClinton attacks on Gabbard become flashpoint in presidential race Poll: Biden holds 10-point lead nationally over Warren Trump declines to participate in Weather Channel 2020 climate change special 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 TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE has seized on the issue, saying Democratic support for abolishing ICE will ultimately hurt the party in November's midterm elections.