Tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets Saturday in downtown Los Angeles to rally against President Trump's immigration policies. (Robert Gourley / Los Angeles Times)

Nothing of any importance whatsoever must be happening in the United States. At least that must have been the determination of the GOP leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives who believed it was a worthwhile exercise to vote on a resolution midday Wednesday giving a proverbial “attaboy” to all those employed by the U.S. Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of course, this wasn’t about ICE or immigration policy but about embarrassing Democrats and their “Abolish ICE” movement, which isn’t really about abolishing ICE at all.

Why not toss in the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, the U.S. Department of Justice and other hardworking federal employees thrown under the bus in recent weeks by the White House in the lovefest? Couldn’t they use a little mash note from their friends on Capitol Hill? That’s not to suggest the Democrats are blameless in this exercise in political tit-for-tat. While their complaints about ICE are justified — if anyone’s bothered to notice the outrageous treatment in immigrant children and the Trump administration’s inability to reunite families deliberately torn apart by a “zero tolerance” border policy, they’d be fuming mad, too — their call to “abolish” ICE overstates what their real goal of simply making the Trump administration’s immigration policy, in all its ineptness and cruelty, front and center before voters this year.


As one might expect, the resolution got plenty of love from House Republicans while a majority of Democrats simply chose to vote “present” rather than go on the record either endorsing or not endorsing ICE personnel. The five-minute vote turned out to be about 300 seconds of wasted time.

President Donald Trump surely must have approved of getting yet another chance to characterize Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as embracing an open borders environment where guns, gangs and drug cartels can cross back and forth with nary a care. “You get rid of ICE, you’re going to have a country that you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house,” President Trump said in a recent interview on Fox News. A Politico poll conducted July 6-10 found a majority of Americans favor keeping ICE in business and only 25 percent support abolishing it.

An exterior view of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency headquarters is seen July 6, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
An exterior view of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency headquarters is seen July 6, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

But that’s not really what “Abolish ICE” means, at least for most of the people advocating it. The abolish ICE movement seeks to phase out the agency and create a replacement with the same duties and responsibilities — just without the incompetence and cruelty that’s characterized its behavior in recent years. We know this because that’s exactly what the bill offered by House Democrats seeks to do. The bill backed by Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and others would be more about reorganizing government then abolishing anything. The legislation recognizes the necessity of federal law enforcement agents combating drug smuggling, human trafficking and other border-related security needs.

Admittedly, “Reconstitute ICE” or “Reorganize ICE” doesn’t sound like much of a rallying cry. And Democrats are split about exactly how far to go with this, having resisted putting their own bill to a vote on the floor when Republicans devilishly offered. Perhaps a better rallying cry would be to “Purge ICE” of its worst inclinations. The United States got along fine without an ICE for the vast majority of its history. ICE didn’t exist until just 15 years ago, and there’s a certain amount of post-9/11 national security freak-out baked into its operations that its predecessor INS — the Immigration and Naturalization Service (see the emphasis on naturalization, or conferring the rights of citizenship, built into its very title) did not have.

Americans deserve to be angry at the Trump administration. Aggressive deportation is one thing — the Obama administration participated in that practice, too — but it’s quite another to agree to be a willing participant in the folly that has been the “zero-tolerance” policy. The Trump administration not only forcibly removed immigrant children from their parents without knowing whether the family had a legitimate claim to be accepted into the country as refugees but also failed to maintain a record system capable of returning child-to-parent in a timely fashion. That’s largely why the administration isn’t keeping to a federal judge’s timetable for family reunification (excuses about child smugglers notwithstanding).

President Trump and others have made clear that ICE isn’t going anywhere during their watch, and that’s undoubtedly true. But restructuring ICE or giving it new marching orders is well within the jurisdiction of Congress whether or not the Democrats gain a majority in either chamber this fall. After all, there are Republicans who are clearly embarrassed by the zero-tolerance fiasco as well. Meanwhile, how odd is it to hear Trump supporters treat the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and the entire intelligence establishment from CIA to NSA as some kind of deep-state outlaws but reserve their good will for ICE, the agency that wrests 1-year-olds from their mothers? How far does the cult-like worship of Mr. Trump extend that they can ape his self-serving law enforcement backlash?

Does Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley and her anti-ICE platform signal a leftward shift in the Democratic Party, or does it simply reflect Democratic skepticism toward U.S. immigration policy expressed in 21st century, social media-driven, emotional terms? Our guess is the latter. Just get past the slogan and listen to the substance. Abolish ICE is the left’s equivalent of the right’s slogans of recent years to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. (Seriously, a majority of House Republicans have called for the tax collection agency’s “complete elimination.”) Given ICE’s miserable track record, it deserves the scrutiny from whichever party is willing to give it — albeit a sham bill designed only to score political points isn’t the way to do it.