The lawmakers aren’t defending the agency, but they are placing the blame for its conduct at the feet of the president.
The preeminent coalition of Hispanic lawmakers on Capitol Hill is pushing back against mounting calls for abolishing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, arguing that lawmakers should instead focus on broader reforms of American immigration policy.
In a series of talking points being distributed to its members, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus calls the current ICE immigration enforcement regime both “inhumane and harsh.” But the talking points stress that immigration enforcement is just one part of the agency’s portfolio. The others, ranging from “narcotics enforcement, investigating cybercrimes, human smuggling, firearms smuggling and counterterrorism,” were not in question, the document says.
While calling for “increasing transparency and accountability,” the CHC talking points conclude that “abolishing ICE without changing President Trump’s disastrous immigration policy will not solve the problem.”
“It is the agency’s misguided and unfortunate policy priority—which now appears to be based on an effort to deport 11 million people and possibly their 5 million U.S. citizen children that has led to this public outcry,” the talking points read. “The agency’s name or place on the organizational chart doesn’t need to be changed. ICE needs greater oversight and accountability so that we can protect the homeland and better manage our broken immigration system.”
The talking points were passed to The Daily Beast by a congressional source. A top Democratic House aide confirmed the CHC was crafting a document that implicitly rejected calls for abolishing the agency. A source close to the CHC told The Daily Beast that the talking points were put together by caucus staff. The source said they did not constitute a formal position of the caucus.
A spokesperson for the CHC declined to comment for this story.
In crafting its talking points, the CHC finds itself taking a far more nuanced position than many in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. This week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both called for abolishing ICE. Those officials’ remarks followed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking victory over Rep. Joe Crowley earlier this week, after she made abolition of the agency a central campaign promise.
The growing movement to get rid of ICE—an agency created in the aftermath of 9/11—has caused consternation among some Democrats, who fear that such a proposition is unfeasible given the numerous functions beyond immigration that ICE oversees. One chief complaint is that the word “abolish” has been used as a synonym for reform and that, in doing so, advocates have set up unreasonable expectations among progressive voters.
The CHC’s talking points reflect this fear and could end up sparking a politically uncomfortable debate between Hispanic lawmakers and party activists. They are hardly a defense of ICE’s conduct. Instead, the caucus places blame for the agency’s aggressive immigration enforcement at the feet of the president:
ICE has severely damaged itself by becoming a political pawn in the Republican electoral strategy and making immigration a partisan wedge. The agency has been emboldened by President Trump and immigration hardliners to act as a rogue enforcement agency going after low priority immigrants and their families
Rather than prioritize its resources to protect our homeland from human traffickers, cybercrimes, child exploitation, money launderers, and terrorist threats, ICE has terrorized whole communities by targeting gainfully employed men and women with families who have longstanding ties to the United States. This has resulted in mothers and fathers filling beds in detention centers rather than criminals.
The CHC talking points notably stress that Democratic lawmakers are in favor of enhanced investments in border security. The document notes that “30 Democratic House Members support H.R.4796 (the USA Act), which calls for increasing the use of effective technology at the border in order to achieve situational awareness and operational control along the U.S. border and requires DHS to submit a comprehensive southern border strategy to Congress outlining ways to achieve border control.” It also cites the 2013 immigration bill that passed in the Senate, which included “about $40 billion for border enforcement.”