- - Tuesday, July 24, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Eliminating law enforcement on the nation’s southern border is a cherished goal of a noisy segment of undetermined size among Democrats. Cooler Democratic heads think it’s party suicide, and it wouldn’t help the nation, either. But cool heads in the party are scarce. Playing the “I’m crazier than thou” game is more fun.

Abolition of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has become the cause celebre in the darker corners of the Democratic left, in much the way that “Medicare for All” and “free college” early caught the fancy of the faithful. The calls by prominent voices in the party to abolish ICE are growing louder as the Democratic Party lurches farther left en route to November and beyond.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, warming up for a run for the party’s presidential nomination two years hence, told a rally in Boston last month that ICE should be replaced “with something that reflects our morality.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York calls ICE “a cruel deportation force” and says Congress must “start over, separating the criminal justice and immigration roles.” Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York concedes that every country needs reasonable law enforcement on its borders, “but [ICE] is not reasonable law enforcement. ICE is broken. It’s divisive, and it should be abolished.”

This rhetoric at the top of the party reduces the immigration debate to the question of whether the country should have laws to regulate immigration at all. These are sentiments once found on the outermost fringes of the party, but are becoming party dogma. Many congressional Democrats, facing the real world in the November midterm congressional elections, see the peril of indulging a fit of pique over the temporary separation of children from their parents in a surge of illegal migration across the border.

Only a handful of Democrats voted against a Republican-backed resolution in support of ICE and its mission earlier this month. The resolution passed by a vote of 244 to 35, with 133 Democrats voting “present.” Those voting present weren’t up to confronting the radicals, but by voting “present” they clearly didn’t want to join them.

They recognize where political reality lies. A new poll by Politico-Morning Consult finds that the public, by a margin of better than 2 to 1, thinks ICE should remain in place. Just 25 percent of respondents say the agency should be abolished, and 54 percent say it shouldn’t be. But a substantial plurality of Democratic voters — 43 percent to 34 percent — want to eliminate ICE. That’s enough to frighten a congressman. An overwhelming number of Republicans, 79 percent of those polled, want to leave ICE as is, and that’s a frightening finding for Democrats trying to figure out a path to survival.

President Trump, naturally, welcomes the sour notes and clanging noise and only wants more of it. “I hope they keep thinking about it,” he told a television interviewer the other day, “because they’re going to get beaten so badly.” As if on cue, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and eight fellow House Democrats have introduced legislation to create a commission, the familiar stall sometimes called a task force and sometimes called a study group, to formulate and submit to Congress a plan for “the termination of ICE.”

The duties of ICE, including enforcing the law against transnational street gangs such as MS-13 and others engaged in running drugs and trafficking in live humans, mostly young women and children, would be reassigned to other federal agencies.

Mr. Pocan’s 17-member commission would be made up mostly of friends of what created the mess on the border in the first place, recruited from “civil society” and immigrant rights organizations, including individuals directly impacted by ICE practices,” together with four members to be appointed by House and Senate Democratic leaders. The commission would make a priority of hiring “personnel to address legal, health and social-service needs of those within [the] federal immigration enforcement system.” Any enforcement of immigration laws would be something of an afterthought.

The Pocan initiative is obviously not going anywhere in this Congress. But Mr. Pocan and his like-minded plotters have given the voters fair warning, a preview of what a new Democratic Congress would deliver to an unsuspecting public.

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