The Trump administration has launched a full-scale defense of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the face of growing Democratic calls to “abolish ICE” -- a slogan that was once limited to the far-left fringes of the party.
“While I stand before you today at a time when some people are actually calling for the abolition of ICE, in this White House let me be clear -- we are with you 100 percent," Vice President Mike Pence said at ICE headquarters on Friday. "And as the president said last night we will always stand proudly with the brave heroes of ICE and Border Patrol.”
Added Pence, "Under President Donald Trump, we will never abolish ICE. As the president said, we will never fail to applaud and expand and empower this agency with the resources you deserve."
The searing speech from Pence, which included swipes at Democrats for attacking the agency, came as the White House issued a lengthy defense of the agents and the agency itself.
“Calls to abolish ICE are an insult to these heroic law enforcement officers who make sacrifices every day to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and protect our safety and security,” the White House said in a Thursday press release, which included the slogan: “Save ICE.”
While once limited to protest placards and left-wing online activists, the calls to abolish the agency have ramped up in recent weeks in the wake of the controversy surrounding the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on prosecuting all illegal border crossers.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., all floated as possible 2020 presidential candidates, have backed the call to abolish the agency.
"The president's deeply immoral actions have made it obvious we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works," Warren said on Saturday.
Pence, in his speech Friday, blasted those Democrats and said it was a sign that "opposition of ICE has moved to the center of the Democratic Party."
"Just when you thought the Democrats couldn’t move any farther to the left, leading members of the Democratic Party, including candidates for higher officer, are actually openly advocating the abolition of ICE – an agency that protects the American people and our communities every single day."
He called the calls "outrageous and irresponsible," arguing that it would lead to more illegal immigration, more drugs and more violent crime and even allow terrorists to exploit loopholes.
The White House also outlined the consequences of abolishing the agency.
“Abolishing ICE would mean open borders because it would eliminate the agency responsible for removing people who enter or remain in our country illegally, including drug dealers; gang members; and child molesters, rapists, and other sex offenders,” the release said.
It also provided figures as to ICE’s work every year, noting that ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) arrested “more than 127,000 aliens with criminal convictions or charges.” ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) meanwhile made 4,818 gang-related arrests in FY 2017 and seized more than 980,000 pounds of narcotics.
“Abolishing ICE would leave these drugs in our communities to cause more devastation,” the White House said.
Meanwhile, President Trump has been ratcheting up his rhetoric on Twitter about ICE.
“Every day, the brave men and women of ICE are liberating communities from savage gangs like MS-13,” he tweeted Thursday. “We will NOT stand for these vile Democrat smears in law enforcement. We will always stand proudly with the BRAVE HEROES of ICE and BORDER PATROL!”
“We protect ICE, they protect us and we protect them,” he said at a rally in Montana.
In addition to defending the agency, Trump appears to be relishing the idea that Democrats will embrace the “abolish ICE” push ahead of this year’s midterms and the 2020 presidential election -- where many conservatives, and some Democrats, believe that it could spell electoral defeat in key swing states.
“Well I hope they keep thinking about it. Because they’re going to get beaten so badly,” he told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Vice President Mike Pence will visit ICE headquarters and meet with employees, where he is expected to praise agents and express the importance of the agency in the fight to secure the country’s borders and enforce immigration law..
But the pushback from the White House doesn’t appear to be stopping the “abolish ICE’ movement from picking up vocal support.
“Now, it is time to do what Americans overwhelmingly want: abolish the cruel, dysfunctional immigration system we have today and pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Sanders tweeted on Tuesday, adding that that would involve “restructuring” agencies such as ICE.