The idea of abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has quickly gained steam on the Democratic left, with both candidates and, increasingly, incumbent House and Senate Democrats jumping on the bandwagon. But not everyone is on board with the idea, and by “not everyone,” I mean the Serious People who just know that this isn’t gonna work because they feel it.
Here’s Ian Bremmer, a political scientist who has been wrong on just about every prediction he’s made in the last several years:
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton history professor, wrote an op-ed for CNN which essentially argues that Democrats are already so much more popular than Donald Trump on immigration that drawing a stark contrast between themselves and the president would, in fact, be very bad:
According to a Pew Research Center poll, Democrats enjoyed a 14-point advantage in handling immigration before the family separations started. And according to a CNN poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose the President’s decision to take children from their parents.
Moving the public discussion toward an abstract bureaucratic body and the need for government reorganization could easily dampen the fervor that was evident on the streets of America Saturday. It can also divert attention from the President himself.
As Trump starts to gain some political momentum, Democrats can’t afford to make mistakes going into the midterms. They risk undercutting their political position on some of the most important issues of the day, where the President has made it clear exactly what kinds of policies he intends to put into place.
And on Saturday, there was this Axios report that quotes Democratic pollsters and strategists (as well as people who definitely have their finger on the pulse of Democratic voters, like longtime Republican operative Alex Castellanos) as saying it’s a bad idea.
“I worry that abolishing ICE tips the issues from humane treatment to security. The Republicans are already trying to move the issue in that direction,” Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who wrote a book with Kellyanne Conway, told Axios. “Voters believe we need some enforcement of border security—not just for immigration, but for security.”
It’s odd that supposed Trump opponents are so opposed to radically reining in his power on the issue where he’s been able to act on his worst instincts. ICE, as we have noted before, is an agency that was born out of post-9/11 paranoia and which has always been bad. And the Democratic silence on ICE’s abuses when Barack Obama was president—remember Jennicet Gutiérrez?—show that there’s no better time to force the issue than now, when Trump has weaponized the agency to its fullest, worst potential.
One thing that all of these missives on why abolishing ICE is fundamentally bad politics have in common is that they’re based on nothing but gut instincts. Right now, we have no idea what people think about the idea, because as the Washington Post noted on Friday, there has been no extensive polling done on ICE abolition:
In a September 2017 Washington Post/ABC News poll, when asked whether the administration had been “too tough” in enforcing immigration laws, 45 percent of responding voters said yes; 30 percent said they were satisfied. In the only recent poll of any kind that asked voters about ICE — a Harvard Institute of Politics survey of 18-29-year-olds in March — just 25 percent of young voters trusted ICE to “do the right thing” all or most of the time. By comparison, 51 percent said they trusted the military, and 38 percent said they trusted the Environmental Protection Agency.
That was before the drawn-out family-separations crisis, which transformed “abolish ICE” from a cause for opponents of “mass deportation” to a simple way for Democrats to criticize immigration enforcement in the Trump era.
Now, it’s probable that in the coming days and weeks, we’ll see more polling done on the issue. It may very well show that abolishing ICE is unpopular. But what if—stay with me for a second here—that was fine?
There’s a reason that Medicare for All has rapidly gained popularity in the last few years—the left keeps talking about it, and owing to the right’s dismantling of everything about Obamacare that was good, more people are starting to realize that a radical reimagining of healthcare is better than having whichever party controls Congress and state legislatures determine the quality and cost of care that poor people get.
Very few ideas that later become policy are hits with the American public upon introduction. Moving the needle on these issues takes time and effort, and activists continuing to push abolition (along with Democrats co-opting it) as the only real remedy will help to mainstream the idea (just as happened with Medicare for All), especially as Americans hear more and more stories about the horrors of ICE under the Trump administration.
While there are real questions to be asked of the movement to abolish ICE—such as whether its reign of terror would be shifted onto some other federal agency in a post-ICE world, or why we shouldn’t aim higher and go for repealing the Homeland Security Act of 2002—whether or not it’s going to hurt the Democrats’ chances on winning the three single-issue immigration swing voters who haven’t already made up their mind on which party to vote for should not be one of them.
Every bit of progress we have ever gotten has required that a battle be fought tooth and nail for years. Good things are worth fighting for, and right now, there is no issue where a fight—a bold plan of action to limit the tools that Trump and his successors in the presidency have to use their power to terrorize immigrant communities—is more necessary than this one.