Ryan scoffs at Dems’ move to abolish ICE, rally voters

  • People hold a rally outside the Federal Courthouse in Bridgeport, Conn. on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Lawyers for two immigrant children detained in Connecticut after being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border asked a federal judge on Wednesday to order that the girl and boy be reunited with their families. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP) Brian A. Pounds

Associated Press
Published: 7/13/2018 12:01:42 AM

WASHINGTON — Liberal Democrats unveiled doomed legislation Thursday aimed at abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, their eyes focused on galvanizing voters for the midterm elections. The House’s top Republican scoffed that the measure makes him “feel very good” about November.

The dueling view of the measure’s potential impact is the latest example of how immigration looms as a vote-moving issue this fall, when Democrats hope to wrest control of the House and perhaps the Senate from the GOP. Public concern over the problem shows no signs of receding soon, as the Trump administration struggles to reunite more than 2,000 migrant children they’ve separated from parents caught entering the U.S. illegally.

“It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen, and they are just tripping over themselves to move too far to the left,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Thursday about Democrats’ bill. “They’re out of the mainstream of America, and that’s one of the reasons why I feel very good about this fall.”

The measure erasing ICE has no chance of going anywhere in the GOP-run House. But for liberal Democratic activists, the agency has become a symbol of President Donald Trump’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, and abolishing it has morphed into a campaign rallying cry.

“The president is using ICE as a mass-deportation force to rip apart the moral fabric of our nation,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a lead sponsor.

Republicans and some Democrats see the effort as an overreach that will help the GOP paint Democratic candidates as extremists for wanting to erase the agency. While many liberals say ICE has terrified the immigrant community by abusively conducting roundups outside schools and job sites, Republicans say it helps curb crime and illegal drugs.

Under the bill, a commission would assign ICE’s duties to other agencies and it would cease to exist within a year.

“This is where the grassroots are,” Pocan said this week in a brief interview.

The immigration fight also flared at the House Appropriations Committee, where the two parties clashed over Trump’s policy of separating families.

Republicans on that panel batted down Democratic proposals that undercut the administration’s zero tolerance policy of prosecuting and detaining migrants caught entering the U.S. illegally.

One Democratic plan would have blocked money for tent cities to house unaccompanied children. Another would have required the administration to heed a 2-decade-old court order that bars the government from detaining children for more than 20 days.

But in a tacit admission that Trump’s actions have left them politically vulnerable, members of the Republican-controlled committee accepted other Democratic proposals. One requires a government plan for tracking and reuniting children separated from their families and imposes a $100,000-a-day fine — imperceptible by federal standards — if it doesn’t produce one.

Republicans also won party-line approval of language letting federal officials hold children for more than 20 days when their parents face legal action for unauthorized entry to the U.S. The Trump administration wants to eliminate that 20-day limit so it can detain entire families as it enforces its zero tolerance policy.

“All it does is keep families together while we’re in the process of adjudication,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the measure’s sponsor.

Democrats say that the administration should let such families go until they must appear in court and that keeping children and parents in custody for such offenses is cruel, even if they’re together. Some Republicans have also opposed the idea of holding families until their cases are resolved.

The House committee fight was over amendments to a massive spending bill financing health, education and labor programs, a perpetually controversial measure that gets delayed every year. The immigration provisions would only further complicate passage.

The House rejected two GOP immigration bills last month, and the Senate rejected three plans in February — two bipartisan bills and a third bearing Trump’s hard-line views. Congress’ prospects for approving anything on the subject soon are bleak.

Senators have been talking privately in hopes of producing a bipartisan measure addressing family separation, but they haven’t reported an agreement. House Republicans have failed to reach agreement on their own plan on the topic.

The issue has been overshadowed in recent days by Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Cavanaugh to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. But Democrats are showing little interest in letting public attention on immigration fade.

“We have to try to keep it up front as much as we can because it’s important,” Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., said of Democrats’ attempts to end family separations. “The whole world is watching on this one. It’s not just us.”

The government is holding around 2,000 children apart from their families and in some cases is struggling to reunite them with their parents.

In late June, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children. The Trump administration said Thursday that it had reunited 57 children with their parents, but 46 others remained separated because their parents were deported or for other reasons.

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