By Stefan M. Kløvning
Washington, D.C., National Security – Succeeding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ primary election victory on Tuesday as the Democratic candidate for New York Representative, the Democrats have increasingly echoed her call for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), calling into question the original purpose of the law enforcement agency. The 28-year-old candidate would be the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives if she wins over Anthony Pappas in the general election on November 6.
Ocasio-Cortez calls herself a ‘Democratic Socialist’, a term she intends to represent the idea that ‘In a modern, moral and wealthy America, where we have the capacity to ensure that every American can have healthcare, education, and access to dignified housing, we should be able to try to do that as a society by whichever means we can.’ Not surprisingly, she worked as an organizer for Bernie Sanders during his campaign for Presidential Election in 2016, and was congratulated by him after her victory:
Bernie Sanders, however, refused to participate in her and the other Democrats’ campaign to abolish ICE. When asked in an interview on CNN about whether or not he also wants to abolish it, instead of giving a yes-or-no answer, he told Jake Tapper that ‘we need policies that deal with immigration in a rational way,’ which excluded ‘locking up children in detention camps or separating them from their mothers.’ He also called for Trump to sit down with Congress to talk seriously about how to develop these rational policies. Many Democrats have since turned on Sanders for taking this unclear position on ICE, saying he’s on the ‘wrong side of history,’ ‘now a pragmatic centrist Democrat’ and a ‘neoliberal shill.’
High-ranking Democratic officials who have echoed Ocasio-Cortez in this matter include New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Democratic Representative of Wisconsin Mark Pocan. As the first sitting senator to take this position, Gillibrand said that ICE had become a deportation force, and needed to be ‘reimagined’, as the agency today isn’t working as intended. De Blasio continued the call, asserting ‘You need some kind of agency to deal with immigration, but ICE is not that. ICE has proven it can’t be that. ICE’s time has come and gone. It is broken, it has been sent on a very negative, divisive mission, and it cannot function the way it is.’ Pocan is already working on drafting a bill that would suggest getting rid of the agency.
So, how did the agency originate? According to an account by Time, it was created as one of nearly two dozen agencies created following the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush in 2003, as a counter-measure to the horrors of the 9/11 attacks in 2011. Cornell University history professor María Cristina García explains that the change from the issue of immigration going through the Department of Commerce and then the Department of Labor, to the new Department of Homeland Security, ‘reveals a great shift in how a society views immigration.’ Olivia B. Waxman of Time elaborates on the idea, saying that ‘If immigration is an economic or work-force issue, it would make sense to place it under the oversight of departments that deal with those issues. Placing immigration in the national security sector, however, reveals a changed focus on the idea of potential safety threats represented by immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.’ García says, however, though the link between immigration and national security grew exponentially after 9/11, that’s not where the link originated. It really started after the first World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993, and that Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) under Clinton in 1996, reducing immigration from Latin-American countries. García thinks the calls for the abolition of ICE is linked to many of the new agencies under the DHS having conflicting responsibilities. She elaborates, saying ‘You have, on the one hand, an agency entrusted with preventing another terrorist attack, then you have agencies that deal with refugees and that requires a humanitarian [approach]. Refugee advocates, in particular, doubt that the U.S. can honor its humanitarian obligations if the inclination is to automatically assume that refugees and asylum seekers are potential terrorists.’
The calls for the abolition of ICE, has, however, received plenty of criticism from Republicans, most notably by Trump himself, tweeting on Saturday:
As to what the American people generally think, the latest Harvard/Harry poll (n:1448) sought to find out on June 24-25. They discovered that 69% of the American people opposed disbanding the agency, which included 59% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans. However, there’s actually a significant difference between the statistics of the Democratic base of the political party than the Liberal base of the political ideology, it turns out. Only 47% of liberals questioned in the poll opposed abolishing the agency. Though there were over 150 more Democrats questioned than Liberals, this indicates that moderates both Democrats and Republicans mostly (71%) reject the proposition of abolishing the agency. Another poller, Mark Penn, who served as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign, reported on Thursday that 84% of Americans questioned responded that they thought to notify ICE and overturning illegal immigrants to federal authorities would decrease crime rather than increase crime.
Pocan will likely not get very far with his bill, no matter how well he manages to write it, as he will meet strong opposition by both Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress when it’s ready to be presented. Additionally, the majority of Americans, as shown above, also reject the idea of disbanding the 15-year-old agency, and consider its responsibilities and work for national security to be important and valuable for the American people. These polls may indicate that this is just another issue that a minority attempts to be the loudest about, and through that affect real change in American politics. They’ve gotten some strong proponents on their side in Congress, but they’ve still got a long way to go if they’ll ultimately manage to disband the agency.