“Abolish ICE” has become a slogan of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Many of the party’s established leaders appear to be caught off guard by the popularity of abolishing ICE (which stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement) — the agency tasked with enforcing immigration law in the country’s interior, including the arrest, detention, and deportation of unauthorized immigrants who may have lived in the US for years. Former Obama Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, for one, has called “abolish ICE” no more realistic than making Mexico pay for the wall.
But it seems more likely than not that the party is going to co-opt the slogan. The 2020 presidential hopefuls playing to the “abolish ICE” crowd aren’t just wild-eyed progressives — they’re operators like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
It’s impossible to imagine anything like that happening 10 years ago, when immigration was still an issue that split both parties. Or seven years ago, when immigration activists called a Democratic president the “deporter-in-chief” while Democrats in Congress pushed for legalization of unauthorized immigrants to be paired with robust interior enforcement under “comprehensive immigration reform.” Or even three years ago, when Democrats defended a softened Obama immigration policy as focusing on “felons, not families.”
Part of what has happened is Trump. But part of it is that Democratic elected leaders started to defer to organized immigration activists — and elements of the party’s progressive base started adopting those activists’ concerns as their own.
What we’re seeing is the second phase of a two-part transformation of the party’s politics on immigration. In the first phase, a strategic pivot by labor unions (who embraced immigrants as a potential new base for the labor movement) erased mainstream Democratic opposition to legalization of unauthorized immigrants and tempered concerns about future immigrant flows — bringing the party into lockstep behind the idea of comprehensive immigration reform.
By Dara Lind for VOX
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