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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 SandersSanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy 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 Gillibrand Overnight Defense: Capitol security bill includes 1M to reimburse National Guard | Turner to lead House push against military sexual assault | Pentagon drops mask mandate GOP Rep. Turner to lead House push to address military sexual assault Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip MORE (N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Warren says Republican Party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' MORE (Mass.) have in recent days come out in favor of abolishing ICE, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHere's why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border 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 TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE has seized on the issue, saying Democratic support for abolishing ICE will ultimately hurt the party in November's midterm elections.