Joe Guzzardi, 7/19/2018 [Archive]

Melting Down over ICE

Melting Down over ICE

By Joe Guzzardi


Calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement began as whispers, but today are a lion's-roar demand, at least among illegal immigration advocates and their congressional allies. Early on, the loudest end-ICE voices were the usual suspects, with California Senators Dianne Feinstein and her junior colleague, Kamala Harris, leading the pack. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who labeled ICE "ugly and wrong," soon joined the fray.

Last month, Feinstein introduced a bill that would essentially ban arresting any prospective illegal alien who is within 100 miles of the border. Then, on cue, the House dropped its own anti-ICE legislation.

How seriously Americans should take the bravado was in question until leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and sitting New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also jumped on the abolish-ICE bandwagon, and called the agency a "deportation force." Once highly visible presidential hopefuls start sabre rattling, the hour to take the abolish ICE movement seriously is at hand.

What's unclear is how much thought the anti-ICE faction has put into their position. First, if "abolish ICE" is a rally cry for mid-term and 2020 elections, it's a bad strategy. The idea is unpopular among mainstream voters.

And second, eliminating ICE would mean ending the internal enforcement process that allows for the removal of thousands of criminals who break U.S. laws once they cross the U.S. northern and southern borders, or otherwise illegally enter the country. Moreover, shutting down ICE would encourage more illegal immigration, and among other foibles, would expose working and unemployed Americans to more foreign-born job competition.

Non-enforcement proponents claim that humanitarian concerns motivate them. But, as is often the case, little concern is shown toward the many victims of non-enforcement, the average, vulnerable citizens and illegal immigrants who the emboldened aliens would target.

While the specifics regarding the end-ICE campaign are not being offered and the movement is, at this embryonic stage, still a one-liner, a few common goals have surfaced, all of them nation-busters.

The fundamental rough outline is that any foreign national who alleges that he's exposed to gang threats, for example, or she's a domestic violence victim, would be granted asylum, given a lifetime work permit, eventual citizenship and voting privileges. Vacationers would be able to overstay their visas without penalty, take U.S. jobs and remain indefinitely. Finally, longstanding illegal immigrants would be given quasi-automatic amnesty and lawful permanent residency, as well as the affirmative benefits that accompany legal status.

Some of the more prudent in the abolish-ICE camp are hedging their bets as they realize how extreme their position is. Their slightly more toned-down version, which may or may not be sincere, tries to make the point that ICE wouldn't be eliminated but that a more forgiving agency would replace the current version. But absent from immigration advocates' modified talking points is any mention of removal except for convicted alien felons.

The chasm between the enforcement and the open borders crowds has never been wider. Earlier in her Senate career, Feinstein was middle of the road. Between 1996 and 2013, Feinstein consistently voted to end the visa lottery, and she also voted for an amendment to complete 700 miles of border fencing. Today, Feinstein is an abolish ICE heroine, but may not be extreme enough to win her re-election bid against State Sen. Kevin de Leon who recently hosted an ABOLISH ICE CREAM SOCIAL.

Anti-ICE advocates' two most pressing problems are that they offer no specific proposal for the agency's replacement. More problematic for the abolitionists is that shutting down ICE, assuming it were to happen, doesn't take existing immigration laws off the books.

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Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.

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