(Bloomberg) -- The call to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has moved from a rallying point for Democratic Party’s left wing to a legislative proposal being introduced by three House members.
Representatives Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Adriano Espaillat of New York are proposing a measure that would create a commission to implement a “humane immigration enforcement system,” eventually leading to the “termination” of ICE.
The move has no support among Republicans, who control both the House and Senate. With congressional elections four months away, some liberals likely will rally behind the legislation to energize core voters while conservatives already are arguing it shows Democrats are weak on enforcing immigration laws.
The agency has been on the frontline of the bitter debate over President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, particularly the separations of children from their parents at the U.S. border. The bill states that ICE’s work “has radically shifted” from its purpose to prevent terrorism and is now primarily used for removal operations that “have torn apart families and communities.”
The “abolish ICE” movement gained momentum among Democrats after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset 10-term Representative Joe Crowley, a member of the party’s leadership in the House, in New York’s Democratic primary. Ocasio-Cortez promoted the idea in her campaign.
Three days after the election, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said she supported abolishing ICE, calling the agency a “deportation force” and calling on the government to “build something that actually works.” Other prominent liberals including Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders also have taken up the cause.
However that position carries risks for Democratic candidates running in swing districts where Republicans may try to portray them as outside the mainstream. Pocan, Jayapal and Espaillat all represent heavily Democratic districts, but the party is seeking to flip at least 23 House seats now held by Republicans in order to take control of the chamber.
Trump has seized on the calls get rid of ICE to try to paint Democrats as abandoning immigration laws and favoring wide open borders. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Thursday praised the work that ICE does to keep communities safe, and he said the push by some Democrats to end the agency shows how out of touch they are with the American people.
“It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen,” Ryan said. “They’re tipping over themselves to move to the left.”
Democratic congressional leaders have stopped short from supporting the agency’s termination. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said it needs “reform” and Representative Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House, said ICE needs a “fundamental overhaul.”
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