"Abolish ICE" is a trap, says ...

Well, okay, it’s Newt Gingrich, but it’s not just the former Speaker and now-Trump supporter making the argument. Karen Tumulty leverages Gingrich’s experience in pledging to eliminate federal agencies as part of her own argument at the Washington Post that Democrats have walked into a trap. While Democrats think that blaming an agency for the failure of laws works to rally their base, the problem is that they don’t have any good explanation of what comes next:


 Demonizing a government agency is an old, tired strategy — one that rarely if ever has worked.

Just ask the Republicans. They have more than a little experience in this regard.

Democrats “are drifting into a trap,” Trump ally Newt Gingrich told me, acknowledging that he knows what it is like to fall into this one.

That’s even more true considering the lack of options they have for replacing ICE. The one formal proposal so far comes from House Democrat Mark Pocan, who wants to abolish ICE but distribute its work to other federal agencies until a commission gets around to recommending a new agency to deal with enforcement back to Congress. Presumably that would entail changing little except the org charts, because the agencies involved (Departments of Justice, Labor(?), FBI, and others) have little to do with enforcing immigration statutes and no expertise on it at all. Even in the short run, it’s incoherent.

Furthermore, why does Congress need a “commission” to draft legislation? Why do we need a new agency to enforce the same laws that exist right now, rather than have Congress change the laws to improve outcomes? It’s a slogan that goes nowhere, except to demonize the people tasked with enforcing the existing laws, as Tumulty points out:

The reason ideas like this never get anywhere is that most Americans see these agencies as having vital missions to perform. GOP plans to get rid of the Education Department, for example, were seen as an attack on teachers and children.

Similarly, calls to eliminate ICE are likely to be perceived as undermining the security of the nation’s borders — and the integrity of the government employees who carry out its mandate, many of whom risk their lives to do so.


The bigger problem here is that border enforcement is actually a very popular policy, as the last election should have demonstrated, even if the outcome of family separation isn’t. As I argued in my column at The Daily Beast, Democrats are basically cutting off their noses to spite their faces right before a midterm election where control of Congress rests on districts that Trump won on that issue:

Abolishing ICE, or even just the components responsible for border security, amounts to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Family separations are wildly unpopular, and for good reason, but border enforcement is not. A Harvard-Harris poll from last week shows 88% of Americans opposed to family separations, but 70% in favor of stricter enforcement of immigration laws. Majorities oppose the so-called “catch and release” policies forced by the Flores settlement and the TVPRA (55%), prosecuting illegal border crossers (64%), and deportation (64%). Even with the controversy of family separations at the top of the headlines, the same political consensus on immigration policy that put Donald Trump in office remains.

That puts the onus on Congress and the White House to work out solutions to bad outcomes. Instead, the people elected to deal with these issues have tried everything except work on the actual problem. The American people want both tough enforcement and humane treatment, which are not mutually exclusive conditions. Chanting slogans to shift the blame for years of failure reflect much more on the career politicians leading the “abolish ICE!” campaign than it does on the professionals stuck with a very tough job.


“Abolish ICE!” shouts in the faces of two-thirds of American voters who have tired of non-enforcement, even with the controversy over family separations raging at its peak. That’s the trap into which Democrats are walking, one that liberal columnist Bill Scher sees clearly. He asks, “How half-baked is the Abolish ICE case?”, and then goes on to answer his own question:

Abolishing an agency doesn’t abolish immigration laws, and some Abolish ICE advocates dance around questions of if and how exactly those laws would be enforced.

The reality is “Abolish ICE” is not so much a policy proposal as a fresh cudgel to divide the Democratic Party between “Establishment” politicians and left-wing insurgents. Anyone with the temerity to take a breath and think through the practical consequences of such a slapdash idea gets tagged with a scarlet “E,” as was Crowley. …

What exactly do Abolish ICE proponents want in place of the current regime? They don’t actually say. The Abolish ICE website offers no policy solutions (but does sell T-shirts). New legislation from Rep. Mark Pocan abolishes ICE first and asks questions later, offering up “a commission to provide recommendations to Congress on how the U.S. government can implement a humane immigration enforcement system.”

Why aren’t Abolish ICE advocates focused on the current immigration laws, and the Trump administration’s execution of those laws? Because that alone doesn’t serve the purpose of supplanting “Establishment” Democrats with far left insurgents.

It’s worse than Scher imagines. It’s not just an anti-Establishment push; if it was, then sitting Senators like Kirsten Gillibrand wouldn’t be climbing on board. It’s a work-avoidance measure, meant to radicalize the opposition to Trump so that it becomes impossible to reach an accommodation that allows ICE to enforce the law while eliminating the family separation outcome that no one wants. It puts Democrats into the extremely silly position of having legislators argue against legislating, and blaming law enforcement agencies for enforcing the laws that Congress passed and which they refuse to address.


Outside the fever swamps, the trap is easy to see. Maybe the fever swamps need the alert from another key resistance figure …

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