Updated July 11 at 12:32 p.m. ET
While it began as little more than a hashtag on the fringe left, “Abolish ICE” has unfurled, almost overnight, into a small movement. A growing number of Democratic candidates and lawmakers have come to view U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as representative of all that’s wrong with the Trump administration’s immigration practices, but it’s not at all clear that every politician embracing the slogan is on the same page—or what the alternative to ICE might be. And absent that clarity, President Donald Trump is using the movement to paint Democrats as weak on border security.
“Abolishing ICE has suddenly become a touchstone in our politics and our larger body politic,” said Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute at NYU School of Law, “and in the absence of having any sort of thoughtful, reasoned policies on what enforcement we should have, people have focused their anger on ICE, as if ICE disappeared from the face of this Earth all our problems would be solved.”
The calls to abolish the agency began in earnest in early summer, at the peak of the public outcry against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in the separation of families at the United States–Mexico border. Those calls grew louder after the 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran and won on the issue in her primary victory in New York. “It’s time to abolish ICE, clear the path to citizenship, and protect the rights of families to remain together,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on her campaign website. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York—a potential 2020 presidential contender—hopped on the bandwagon shortly after, telling CNN, “I believe that ICE has become a deportation force … and that’s why I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it, and build something that actually works.”