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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Five former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Both sides were wrong about Mueller report, and none of it will likely matter for 2020 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 Elizabeth GillibrandButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration 2020 Dems call on Mueller to testify about redacted report 2020 Dems blast Barr's defense of Trump before Mueller report's release MORE (N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Warren spends big on staff in high-stakes 2020 gamble On The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost MORE (Mass.) have in recent days come out in favor of abolishing ICE, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisFive former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Harris: Integrity of US justice system 'took a real blow' with Barr's actions Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina 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 TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE has seized on the issue, saying Democratic support for abolishing ICE will ultimately hurt the party in November's midterm elections.