Nearly 20 House Democrats voted to express their support for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency Wednesday, distancing themselves from the "abolish ICE" movement and pointing to President Donald Trump — not the agency — as the problem.
The resolution that passed the House Wednesday expresses the House’s “continued support” for ICE officers and personnel, denounces the calls to abolish ICE, and supports “the efforts of all Federal agencies, State law enforcement, and military personnel who bring law and order to our Nation’s borders.”
It passed by a vote of 244–35, in the GOP-controlled chamber, with 133 Democrats voting “present,” denouncing the vote as a political game offered by Republicans solely to embarrass Democrats.
The vote comes after weeks of growing calls by progressives and some Democratic members of Congress to “abolish ICE.” The calls hit the mainstream at the end of June, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat a powerful House Democrat on a platform that included abolishing ICE. While other progressive Democrats quickly aligned themselves with the movement, rank-and-file Democrats declined to join those calls and pointed to Republicans’ ability to attack the party with the line.
Eighteen Democrats took their skepticism of the movement a step farther on Wednesday by voting in support of the resolution, but they made sure to denounce Trump along the way.
“The problem are not the men and women of ICE. Those are the same men and women that worked under Bush, worked under Obama, they’re working now under Trump,” Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar told BuzzFeed News. “The problem is the policies that the Trump administration — that’s what we ought to focus our anger on, the policies of Trump. Not on the men and women that are just there to enforce the law.”
The Democrats who voted for the resolution were mostly moderates, with two Senate candidates — Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen — in the mix.
“I may not like what this administration’s directing the Environmental Protection Agency to do, but that doesn’t mean I think we ought to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency,” California Rep. Jim Costa, who also voted for the resolution, told BuzzFeed News. “This [vote was] another political gotcha which has nothing to do with solving our immigration problems.”
The “abolish ICE” conversation is tied closely to the separation of families under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which received major backlash in June.
“I support the ICE workers but strongly disagree with the administration’s policies,” New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer told BuzzFeed News. “Ripping children away from their parents is totally unacceptable, and I’ve made that clear, but … this is about the administration changing of policies, not about going after individual workers.”
Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, have attacked Democrats over the “abolish ICE” line. Trump has repeatedly used the campaign to criticize Democrats, falsely accusing the party of wanting completely open borders with no law enforcement.
A lone Republican voted against the resolution Wednesday. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash distanced himself from the Democrats but told BuzzFeed News he thinks there might be “legitimate” reasons for eliminating ICE.
“To be clear I’m not for abolishing ICE, but it’s also not necessary that ICE be the agency to carry out all of these functions,” Amash told BuzzFeed News. “Republicans used to be overwhelmingly for eliminating the Department of Homeland Security because it’s a brand new department, and we don’t necessarily need more departments to carry out the functions of government.”
“I don’t agree with denouncing all calls to abolish ICE. I think there might legitimate reasons to abolish it and illegitimate reasons to abolish it. So to just flatly denounce calls to abolish ICE is not correct.”
The idea of abolishing ICE has continued to splinter the Democratic Party — even if not all members of the “abolish ICE” movement are clear on what that would mean practically. Progressives in the House introduced legislation in July that would have terminated ICE within a year of the bill becoming law, but also called for a new commission to advise Congress on how to “implement a humane immigration enforcement system.”
Republicans had initially discussed bringing the Democrats’ bill to abolish ICE to the floor, forcing Democrats to go on the record on the controversial movement. But after it became clear even the bill’s sponsors would not support it, calling the proposed vote a political stunt, Republican leadership chose to vote on this resolution to establish support for ICE instead.
“I haven’t changed an inch from where I’m at on the issue, I just know that we’ve got education to do on it to actually actualize any of these ideas,” Rep. Mark Pocan, who led the abolish ICE legislation in the House, told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.
ICE, as it currently exists, was created in 2003 and largely deals with immigration enforcement. But a great number of other responsibilities also fall under the agency, from preventing terrorism to running the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.