The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a resolution backing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as Republican leaders sought a political advantage in highlighting liberal attacks on the agency.
A handful of Democrats have embraced calls from activists to abolish the agency, known as ICE, because of its aggressive tactics to apprehend, detain and deport undocumented immigrants, including raids of homes and workplaces across the country. These opponents say the agency’s duties could be better handled by other agencies that could focus enforcement on threats from terrorism and criminal activity.
The effort gained steam last month after President Trump’s decision to pursue a “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy prompted ICE and other Homeland Security agencies to separate migrant children from their parents.
But the Abolish ICE movement has been pilloried by Republican leaders as tantamount to abandoning the nation’s immigration laws.
Most Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have kept their distance from the effort. That caution was on display Wednesday, as most Democrats voted “present” rather than taking a position for or against the resolution sponsored by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.).
The vote was 244 to 35, with 133 Democrats voting present.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called the resolution “a sham and a distraction” after urging Democrats to withhold their votes.
“Democrats refuse to play Republicans’ game when it comes to children’s well-being and the safety of those who come here seeking asylum,” he said. “Democrats support secure borders and honor the service of all those whose lives are at risk in protecting our country and our people. . . . But we will neither be silent nor will we cease fighting to bring an end to the dangerous and inhumane policies of the Trump administration.”
Trump weighed in on the vote early Thursday, bashing Democrats in a tweet.
“The Democrats have a death wish, in more ways than one - they actually want to abolish ICE,” he wrote. “This should cost them heavily in the Midterms. Yesterday, the Republicans overwhelmingly passed a bill supporting ICE!”
During the House debate, Higgins did not dwell on the nuances of the Abolish ICE movement, accusing Democrats of “making it very clear to the American people that they stand against efforts to secure America’s borders.”
“The campaign against ICE is the latest rallying cry for open borders, the latest call to prioritize illegal immigrants over American citizens, the latest shrill cacophony from the left to vilify and demonize front-line law enforcement in America,” Higgins said.
The issue came to a head on Capitol Hill last week after some Democrats introduced a bill that would abolish the agency after a year, during which time a bipartisan commission would explore reassigning its duties to other agencies.
Both House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) expressed support for putting the measure on the floor, thus putting Democrats on the spot by forcing them to choose between the wishes of their liberal base and more moderate voters.
But the Democratic sponsors of the bill quickly said they would vote against it to avoid any political shenanigans and, according to Republican aides familiar with the talks, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) weighed in against voting on the Democrats’ bill to make a political point — preferring instead to vote on Higgins’s measure.
During a weeks-long immigration debate that ended in a pair of failed votes in June, Ryan repeatedly said he would schedule votes only on immigration bills that Trump supported and would sign into law.
Trump has been personally following the growing calls to abolish ICE, using his Twitter account to highlight and attack Democrats who support the effort.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), an author of the House bill to abolish the agency, said Republicans were trying to distract attention from their unpopular family-separation policy.
“Rather than have Congress take up a directive to reunite the children with their parents, the GOP is performing some misdirection to another issue,” he said. “Why? Because many of the GOP members support the president’s shameful actions.”