‘Abolish ICE’ drive hits Congress
Kids hold up signs during an immigration family separation protest. | Ross D. Franklin/AP

WASHINGTON—The “Abolish ICE” campaign, a theme in demonstrations ever since the GOP Trump government started using the agency’s officers to separate parents from kids and to round up workers – documented or not – inside the U.S., hit Capitol Hill. And the ruling Republicans there rejected it.

A small but growing group of congressional Democrats called for eliminating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE), and introduced legislation to do so. But in a debate before lawmakers left town, the GOP doubled down on protecting the agency and lauding its officers.

The Republicans’ side of the debate included racial dog whistles and virtually calling their foes, in and out of Congress, coddlers of criminals, all because the Democrats challenged ICE’s agents and their arrests.  The GOP sponsor, Rep. Jack Higgins, R-La.  used the gang MS-13 as code for Hispanics, and “law and order” – the old George Wallace-Richard Nixon slogan — as code words against minorities.

The Abolish ICE campaign started months ago as Trump’s government imposed its “zero-tolerance” policy of Border Patrol arrests of all migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, including those seeking asylum from chaos, wars and murderous gangs in Central America. Part of the policy was to rip screaming children, including nursing babies, from parents’ arms and house them in jail-like “detention centers.”

The other part was ICE raids inside the U.S., including rounding up more than 150 people at unionized meat packing plants in Ohio in July — leaving their kids without parents — and stationing agents at courthouses to grab people, even legal “green card” holders, who showed up for required check-ins.

All that produced outrage – and fueled the July 18 House debate.

“A mass deportation strike force is incompatible with democracy and human rights,” The Nation wrote in a March 9 editorial, at the start of the anti-ICE drive. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., says we should replace ICE “with something that reflects our morality and that works.” ICE, she said, doesn’t do either.

So Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a Painter and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, presented – with his caucus colleagues – a resolution to abolish ICE. It never came up for a vote. On virtual party lines, lawmakers approved the GOP ICE position 244-35, with 133 Democrats voting “present.” The GOP supported its resolution, House Resolution 990, 226-1. The resolution is not binding and not law.

“The Republicans are performing a cruel trick on the American people,” Pocan said. “The nation is repulsed by President Trump’s directives that forced the separation of over 3,000 children from their parents at the border, placed children in cages, and terrorized children.”

“As one 9-year-old victim said, he was treated like a prisoner and a dog. This is cruel, inhumane, and un-American,” added Pocan, who has visited detention centers near the border.

“Rather than have Congress take up a directive to reunite children with their parents, the GOP is performing some misdirection to another issue, hoping that you won’t notice they will not stand up against the policy of family separation and putting kids in cages at our nation’s borders. Why? Because many of the GOP members support the president’s shameful actions.”

“Now they want to play politics and misdirect your attention. I won’t be complicit in their attempts. I will vote ‘present’ today to be present for the children and parents separated at the border. Shame on you for terrorizing children and ignoring pleas to help them,” Pocan concluded.

“We are not going to let you insult the intelligence of the American voter,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “Immigrants, refugees, outsiders and outcasts, freed slaves, and survivors…built this country.”

“Some of us had our land stolen; some of us were stolen from our land; and some of us made a very smart decision that we had to get away from the land we were in so that we could survive. That is who we are. That is what America is.”

“Every generation has had to withstand people in power labeling the poor, the weak, the outsiders, and people of different races and ethnicities as criminals, threats, and the cause of all our problems, as the majority does today. Every generation has had to stand up to bullies and racists and power-hungry politicians and overcome their efforts to divide us. That is also the story of America’s greatness: Our resilience and our ability as a nation to overcome the worst instincts of some of our leaders.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the GOP’s resolution “a meaningless political stunt to change the subject from the international and domestic shame unleashed on us by President Trump.” He, too voted present, “because I have no desire to play the Republicans’ immoral games right now. We have much more important things to do.”

Ironically, ICE’s prime task is to enforce immigration laws within the U.S., such as when its agents raided the unionized meat packing plants. A specialist in immigration studies at the University of New Mexico told the Public Broadcasting Service ICE has been focusing on “green card” holders, who are legal permanent residents.

It’s another agency, the Border Patrol, that’s been tearing kids away their parents away at the border, sending the children into hysterics. At least one depressed father, jailed by the Patrol, hung himself.

Higgins and other Republicans kept gabbling on about how ICE agents arrest MS-13 gang members in the U.S., stop drug trafficking and catch criminals. The rest of Higgins’ rhetoric was more dog whistles and demonization of Democrats. Americans “overwhelmingly support law and order,” he declared.

“The campaign against ICE is the latest rallying cry for open borders, the latest call to prioritize illegal immigrants over American citizens, and the latest shrill cacophony from the left to vilify and demonize frontline law enforcement in America,” he declared.

So did Trump. “Democrats are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women I have ever seen. I have watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13 & clean out the toughest of situations. They are great!’ he tweeted.

The only union comment so far is from the Government Employees sector that represents 6,000 ICE agents themselves. That sector, the National ICE Council, was virtually the only AFL-CIO union sector to openly endorse Trump in 2016 – and for the same anti-immigrant reasons the GOP used in debate.

“Certain elected officials, political leaders, and members of the press have engaged in hateful and often false rhetoric against our officers and employees encouraging widespread death threats and the targeting of ICE officers, employees, and their families,” ICE agents’ sector President Chris Crane claimed. He did not cite specific instances. After praising Higgins and the GOP, Crane said “national security, or even basic border security, does not exist without the interior enforcement of a nation’s immigration laws.” He then charged there are “two million criminal illegal aliens” in the U.S., without offering proof.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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