Earlier this week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said that the first order of business if Democrats retake Congress should be to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). It's a position that's increasingly en vogue among liberals after Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio's shocking upset in a New York Democratic primary last month, but one that some party leaders view with skepticism.
It's going to be really difficult for them to ignore it.
A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows a huge amount of opposition to ICE on the left, with 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters holding an unfavorable view of the agency. Among liberal Democrats, a majority (53 percent) say they have a “very” unfavorable opinion of ICE, and 82 percent have at least a “somewhat” unfavorable view.
The numbers nearly mirror an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Monday. In that poll, 69 percent of registered Republicans felt positively about ICE, while 63 percent of registered Democrats felt negatively.
Disliking ICE, of course, is not the same as wanting it abolished — a recent YouGov poll showed Democrats are about evenly split on that proposition — but it does show this is a hugely popular boogeyman for liberal voters, and that's something Democrats are going to have to grapple with going forward. As ambitious members such as Gillibrand press forward with this idea in the name of appealing to activist base voters, the fire will only be stoked. It's already burning pretty hot.
ICE, in fact, is more polarizing than any major government agency tested, including the FBI that President Trump and his supporters have attacked regularly. The Pew poll showed 49 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning voters retain positive views of the FBI, while 77 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters do.
That 49 percent GOP approval of the FBI was equal to the right's approval of the IRS — another long-standing boogeyman. And despite all the attacks on the FBI and the IRS's alleged targeting of conservatives just a few years ago, the right's views of them are still more than twice as positive as the left's view of ICE.
Part of this could be temporary, after ICE became the face of Trump's aborted policy of separating families apprehended at the border. ICE did not create that policy, but it has become a rather easy target for liberals anxious to express their frustration and seeking action.
Comedian Michelle Wolf's Netflix show recently ran a sketch likening ICE to the terrorist group ISIS.
Democratic leaders, though, have emphasized reform rather than abolition. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus came out against a Democratic bill to abolish the agency. And Democrats balked when Republicans sought to force a vote on that bill.
But the sheer opposition to ICE in Democratic ranks is rather remarkable and suggests that the issue won't disappear any time soon. It seems you can add this to the growing list of issues, including single-payer health care, on which the party is shifting to the left.