Progressive Democrats introduced a bill in the House Thursday that would shut down U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within one year of enactment – part of a movement that has growing support but that's also getting criticized by moderate Democrats as well as Republicans.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was incredulous: “They have really jumped the sharks on the left.”
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., sponsored the legislation, along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Adriano Espaillat D-N.Y., who are both themselves immigrants. All three have criticized the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy,” the immigration crackdown which has resulted in the separation of children and parents and the creation of makeshift tent cities and “tender age shelters” to house the recent influx of immigrants.
The bill’s sponsors say they introduced the measure because they believe ICE is too corrupt to reform.
"President Trump has so misused ICE that the agency can no longer accomplish its goals effectively," Pocan said in a statement. "The best path forward is this legislation, which would end ICE and transfer its critical functions to other executive agencies."
The bill responds to a growing left-wing movement to abolish ICE, whose message has been amplified by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Socialist candidate who gained national attention for her upset primary win in New York on a platform of economic and social justice.
Both Republicans and skeptical Democrats have asked what would replace the agency, which, in addition to detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants, investigates criminal activity such as human smuggling and sex trafficking.
The bill’s sponsors say they would create a commission to determine how best to "transition its essential functions to other agencies and ensure that these functions comport with our values and are subject to appropriate oversight, accountability, and transparency measures."
When asked about the bill Thursday, Paul Ryan called it "the craziest position I've ever seen."
"This is the agency that gets gangs out of our communities, that helps prevent drugs from flowing into our schools, that rescues people from human trafficking," Ryan said of the proposal to raze ICE, adding that he believes Democrats "are tripping over themselves to move too far to the left."
Pocan shot back at Ryan on Twitter, saying he considers the Trump administration's practice of family separation more outrageous.
President Donald Trump has also criticized the movement, joining GOP legislators who have accused Democrats of calling for ‘open borders.’ However, the bill would not alter any existing immigration laws, but would distribute tasks currently performed by ICE to other agencies.
The bill is highly unlikely to be signed into law, given GOP control of both chambers of Congress and the Trump administration's focus on limiting immigration. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has promised to bring the bill to the floor, anticipating a doomed vote that will serve as a litmus test for Democrats.
Many Democrats have expressed their skepticism about abolishing ICE. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have criticized the agency but stopped short of calling to abolish ICE. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said on CNN that she doesn’t believe scrapping the agency would protect immigrants.
"You abolish ICE now, you still have the president with the same failed policies. Whatever you replace it with is just going to still reflect what this president wants to do," Duckworth said.
ICE was founded in 2003, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, as a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
Jayapal, who serves on the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, said in a statement to ABC News that the agency was conceived without sufficient accountability.
"The agency was created in a hurry in the aftermath of 9/11, with little oversight and little foundation to ensure it is serving the country’s needs humanely," Jayapal said, adding, “there was enforcement of our immigration laws before ICE was created and there will be after ICE, as an agency, is gone.”
Jayapal also condemned the agency’s subcontracting with private, for-profit detention centers. The bill states that the use of private contractors costs taxpayers more than state options, and that for-profit contractors’ incentive to maximize profits has resulted in the mistreatment and even the death of detainees.
One name surprisingly absent from the bill: Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., a longtime advocate for immigrants' rights.
Grijalva had initially expressed support for the legislation, Pocan told ABC News over a phone interview in June. However, a spokesperson told ABC News that Grijalva is still reviewing the bill, awaiting "details concerning what abolishing ICE actually means, what will replace the agency, and how issues like accountability, oversight, and alternatives to detention will be addressed."
The bill’s cosponsors include Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Adam Smith of Washington, and Yvette D. Clarke, Jose E. Serrano, and Nydia M. Velazquez of New York.
On June 26, Clarke narrowly defeated insurgent candidate Adem Bunkeddeko, whose candidacy in New York’s 12th Congressional District earned the endorsement of the New York Times and drew comparisons to Ocasio-Cortez’s successful campaign to unseat Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. Bunkeddeko campaigned on a progressive platform that included calling to abolish ICE.
Ocasio-Cortez, who made abolishing ICE a key point in her platform, has galvanized the movement, traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border just days before her primary upset over Crowley.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democrats including potential 2020 presidential candidates Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have joined insurgents on the party’s left flank in calling to abolish ICE.
I believe we need to protect families who need help, and ICE isn’t doing that. It has become a deportation force. We need to separate immigration issues from criminal justice. We need to abolish ICE, start over and build something that actually works. https://t.co/JtSN68k4Fd— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) June 29, 2018
More than 150 elected officials from around the country have also signed an open letter calling to abolish the agency. Among the state senators who signed on is Daniel Biss, the Democratic Socialist legislator who recently mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge from the left to venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker in the race for governor of Illinois.