Saturday, December 19, 2020

U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith aim to abolish ICE, restructure immigration enforcement

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U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, say they will introduce a bill to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, in the coming weeks.

Plans for the new legislation come amid a growing “abolish ICE” movement that counts potential 2020 presidential candidates New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren among its ranks.

The movement emerged in response to President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy that resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents as they crossed the southern border.

The bill would “eliminate the agency as it stands, and restructure its functions, starting from scratch,” Jayapal said in a statement to The Seattle Times.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said he has called Jayapal’s office to express interest in working on the bill.

The two have collaborated before on proposed changes to migrant detention. In October 2017, Smith and Jayapal introduced a bill to end the use of private detention centers and repeal mandatory detention.

Smith said they will work with immigrant rights organizations in drafting the legislation and developing new immigration enforcement policies.

He acknowledged that legislation abolishing ICE would be difficult to get through the Republican controlled House and Senate, but he is hopeful  they will find cross-aisle support.

“There are Republicans in the House and the Senate that I know we can work with and we will certainly try,” Smith said.

President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for immigration enforcement agents and Vice President Mike Pence has said that abolishing ICE would lead to more illegal immigration, human trafficking, violent crime and the proliferation of drugs and gangs.

Jayapal cited expensive private contractors, deaths in custody and inhumane treatment as reasons to dismantle the current agency in favor of one that she says would be accountable and transparent.

Created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, ICE is housed in the Department of Homeland Security and is composed of two units: one that focuses on detaining and deporting unauthorized immigrants within the country, and the other on national security threats and transnational crime, such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.

In a letter sent last month to Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, 19 ICE investigators requested that the agency separate the investigations division from the immigration enforcement arm.

They wrote that many jurisdictions refuse to work with them because of the perceived connection to immigration enforcement, which has hindered their ability to investigate cases.

If the bill were to pass, a commission would be created to look at transitioning some ICE functions to a new agency.

“There will still be enforcement of immigration laws, but it must be without cruelty and abuse,” Jayapal said.

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