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#AbolishICE Is Here: House Democrat Introduces Bill to End ICE (Updated)

Auditi Guha

"It is time to abolish ICE, to cut their funding so we can have the space to begin a national conversation on how to keep our families safe and to ensure our immigration system reflects our American values.”

UPDATE, July 2, 3:54 p.m.: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said the bill to end ICE would first establish a commission to consider “alternatives to … how we redesign the functions of ICE and where we put them,” NPR reports. She said ICE would then be abolished and replaced “with the best alternative.”

Once seen as a fringe effort by immigrant advocates, calls to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are now being echoed by Democratic lawmakers. 

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) announced Monday that he would introduce a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to “abolish ICE and crack down on the agency’s blanket directive to target and round up individuals and families.”

“The heartless actions of this abused agency do not represent the values of our nation and the U.S. must develop a more humane immigration system, one that treats every person with dignity and respect,” he said in a statement.

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Pocan’s announcement comes after a recent trip he took to detention centers in Texas, where immigrant children separated from their families are being held in “cages,” he said, according to Isthmus, a local alt-weekly.

Pocan in a Twitter post Monday accused President Trump and his staff of being “white nationalists” who use ICE to “target and round up people.”

More than 245 people were rounded up in ICE raids in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware in March, ramping up the Trump administration’s attack on undocumented people. Pocan is not the only congressperson to respond: several Democratic lawmakers and candidates have echoed the call to end ICE, an agency formed in 2003.

Rep. Jim. McGovern (D-MA), who recently called Trump’s family separation policy “evil” and “un-American,” has also called for ICE to be dismantled, as have his colleagues Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). “I voted against the formation of ICE in 2002 and have been concerned with the actions of the agency for quite some time,” Blumenauer wrote Sunday in a Medium post. “To regain the trust of the American people, it’s time we abolish ICE.”

Prominent Democratic candidates like Deb Haaland in New Mexico, Cynthia Nixon in New York, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York have joined the #AbolishICE effort, which has tallied 25,000 tweets this month, according to Data for Progress.  That marks a huge jump for the hashtag, which averaged 3,600 tweets each month between January and May.

ICE raids have sent shockwaves of fear through immigrant communities this year. Federal agents captured a record 146 people at an Ohio meat supplier in the agency’s largest workplace raid in recent history; forty-nine were arrested in a weeklong Philadelphia sting last month; and in January, ICE agents raided 98 7-Eleven stores and arrested 21, according to news reports.

“ICE has preyed on people outside of churches, schools, and court houses, waiting to arrest them in front of their children. They turn neighbors against one another. This agency stokes fear in our communities, criminalizes people of color, and makes us less safe,” Haaland said in a statement to Rewire.News. “Families in my community lived in far less fear before ICE was established 15 short years ago. It is time to abolish ICE, to cut their funding so we can have the space to begin a national conversation on how to keep our families safe and to ensure our immigration system reflects our American values.”

Nixon, who is running in New York’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, has circulated an online petition asking voters “to agree we must abolish ICE and do everything possible to shield New York families from Trump’s rogue immigration agents.” She said the agency does not need to be replaced because the U.S. immigration system once functioned without it.

“We’ve been handling immigration and customs for a long time here. We don’t need ICE, and they have strayed so far from the interests of the American people and the interests of humanity,” she said on an episode of The View last week, according to Teen Vogue.

Zephyr Teachout, a candidate for attorney general of New York, wrote Monday in a Guardian column that ICE is an “unaccountable and inhumane political tool” that should be abolished. Teachout said she would use her power as New York’s attorney general to block the Trump administration’s “illegal programs” targeting immigrant families. 

ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) “are tools of lawlessness, so rife with substantiated abuse incidents that we cannot treat these incidents like a few bad apples,” she wrote. “ICE and CBP are so politicized that they are not credible as law enforcement agencies, and so deeply connected with illegal behavior that they are no longer credible as self-governing agencies. Instead, they have become tools of arbitrary power and cruelty; the opposite of law. … It is not an accident that ICE and CBP have become tools of illegality: it is part of the design. “

Justice Democrats, a group founded to organize insurgent candidates, has a petition to abolish ICE and supports candidates who embrace the effort. In an email to Rewire.News, Corbin Trent, the group’s communications director, characterized ICE as a “fascist, unaccountable” agency that’s tarnishing “the moral legacy of this nation.”

“ICE has had a long history of sexual assault and uninvestigated deaths for people in ICE custody. ICE has targeted activists, camped outside subway stations to catch people, terrorized schools, and churches, and is keeping children in cages,” he said. “Every single indication shows us that ICE as an agency is out of control and the deep systemic issues cannot be fixed with a little bit of legislation. I don’t see how anyone who learns of the terrible moral injustices that ICE has perpetrated would not call for its absolute and total abolition. This agency is set up to be unaccountable, is a moral outrage, and an embarrassment to America.”

Human rights advocates have long pointed to the abusive and illegal actions of ICE agents in conducting raids and detaining people, including people who are not criminals. That lawmakers are echoing this rhetoric irks Trump, as is evident from his speech to Nevada Republicans on Saturday. “They want to get rid of ICE!” the Washington Post reported president said. “Our ICE people are so tough. They’re so much tougher than the MS-13 people.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) declined to join the call to end ICE, suggesting “rational” policies instead. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) talked about re-examining the agency rather than abolishing it.

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