‘Abolish ICE’ is a gift to Republicans

“Abolish ICE” has become the new rallying cry of the left, which is trying to turn the fury Americans are feeling about the horrors at the Mexican border on the little-understood agency known as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The effort gained a burst of currency when one of its proponents, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won a stunning victory over House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley in last week’s New York Democratic primary.

Now you are hearing that idea, in one formulation or another, from more prominent figures in the party, including some who are being talked about as possible 2020 presidential contenders.

ICE “has become a deportation force,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told CNN. “Get rid of it. Start over. Reimagine it.”

But replace it with what? Democrats don’t have a clear answer for that, which is why they are heading into dangerous political territory.

Demonizing a government agency is an old, tired strategy — one that rarely if ever has worked.

Just ask the Republicans. They have more than a little experience in this regard.

Democrats “are drifting into a trap,” Trump ally Newt Gingrich told me, acknowledging that he knows what it is like to fall into this one.

When the GOP took control of the House under then-Speaker Gingrich in 1995, its right wing vowed to eliminate no fewer than four federal departments: Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development. Republicans saw those departments as symbols of everything that had gone awry in a sprawling, increasingly intrusive federal government.

“We learned that every one of those agencies have interest groups that desperately want them to survive,” Gingrich said. “We just weren’t clever about it.”

Still, the proposal remains alive in conservative circles and is put forward again like clockwork during GOP presidential primary season.

In 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s White House hopes effectively came to an end when he announced during a debate: “It is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education and the . . . what’s the third one there?” The department he forgot is the one he now heads as President Trump’s energy secretary.

By Karen Tumulty for THE WASHINGTON POST
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