Hey Remember When We Were Going to Abolish ICE

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I know it’s difficult to imagine, but try to put yourself in the summer of 2018 for a second. Cardi B had the song of the summer, the Golden State Warriors were in the NBA Finals, the president was furiously shitposting, and the hottest idea on the political left was abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win over Joe Crowley nearly a year ago brought a new wave of attention to an idea that’s had traction for years among immigrants’ rights activists. Rep. Mark Pocan, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, introduced a bill to abolish ICE, a call joined by a slew of potential Democratic presidential candidates. And heading into the midterm election, the proposal to get rid of the immigration cops was brought up almost as much by Donald Trump as it was by progressive Democrats themselves.

The Republicans badly lost those midterms, but since the new Congress was sworn in, the idea has lost much of its traction. Even as 2020 Democrats have embraced left-wing proposals such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, most have shied away from the call to fully do away with the agency; Beto O’Rourke’s sweeping immigration plan released today, for example, called only for “increased accountability” over ICE and Customs and Border Protection.


Ocasio-Cortez is still raising the issue, but she’s rapidly becoming a lone voice in a party that was reluctant to accept the premise of the position in the first place. Meanwhile, ICE and the immigration system in general just keeps getting more brutal; during a single raid in Texas this April, more than 280 migrants were arrested. And in just the last six months alone, five Guatemalan children have died in U.S. custody.

Aside from the prevalent strain of centrism among Democrats, which bewilderingly maintains that ICE can still be used for good, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why abolishing ICE has completely left the national political discourse. Immigration is a weak spot for Donald Trump, evidenced by the fact that his attacks on the proposal last year didn’t work as well as his piss-poor poll numbers on the issue. Some will point to the bad poll numbers abolishing ICE had as an obvious way out, but most people were hearing the idea for the first time. If the issue was still as prevalent now as it was then, who knows how it would be doing right now?


We’ve emailed Pocan and Ocasio-Cortez to ask if they’re working on legislation this year. Either way: abolishing ICE—and CBP, and the whole Department of Homeland Security—is one of the best ideas to come out of the opposition to Trump over the past three years. We shouldn’t abandon it.

Update, 11:36 a.m. ET: In an email, Ocasio-Cortez’s press team said that while the congresswoman still supports abolishing ICE, she isn’t currently working on legislation to do that.