Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) made good on his promise to introduce legislation to do away with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), something he said in a press release from last month that he would be doing.
Calls among lawmakers to eliminate the agency have been on the rise lately, but the debate over the agency’s fate has become a political weapon for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to use against each other.
Details of the Legislation
Assuming it were to become law, The Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act (H.R. 6361) would abolish the agency no later than 1 year thereafter. What is less clear, however, is how the functions of the agency would be divvied up among other federal agencies.
In order to determine a course of action, the bill would establish a commission to transition ICE’s functions.
The bill describes the committee’s assignment with respect to determining these as follows:
Identify all essential functions of ICE that uphold the Constitution and maintain high human rights standards pursuant to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and identify the appropriate Federal agencies that shall be tasked with executing activities such as combatting financial crimes, cybercrimes, trade fraud, human trafficking and drug smuggling, as well as a plan to transition any such duties.
The transition committee would also be tasked with determining the most effective means of maintaining compliance with the Constitution and other aforementioned criteria. Which functions of the agency “uphold the Constitution” probably depends on which political party you ask, however.
The committee would also be tasked with providing recommendations that ensure that existing federal agencies tasked with picking up the slack for ICE’s former functions would do so in such a way that immigration enforcement is carried out “in a prompt and timely manner, and in full compliance with all relevant Federal statutes and international laws…”
Maintaining Federal Employment
Of particular relevance to the federal workforce is the legislation’s description of how federal employees working for ICE would be affected. The legislation states that the committee must ensure that federal employment is not reduced when ICE is dissolved.
In fact, the wording of the legislation leaves room for using termination of the agency as a means for expanding federal employment. In addition to stating that the number of jobs will not be reduced, the proposed legislation reads, “…prioritizing the hiring of personnel to address the legal, health, and social-service needs of detained individuals, those seeking asylum, and those determined to be most vulnerable within the Federal immigration system.”
The commission would have to make its recommendations to Congress no later than 180 days after it holds its first meeting.
Voting on the Legislation
So will the legislation get put to a vote? House Republicans have said they will hold a vote on the bill, believing that doing so will score political points for them.
According to The Hill, who reported on the proposed vote, “Republicans see the growing ‘abolish ICE’ movement as a political winner that will make at least some Democrats running in swing districts uncomfortable.”
In response, the Democrats who introduced the bill, Pocan, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), said they will not vote for their own bill, calling the move by Republicans a “political stunt.”
The trio said in a statement:
We know Speaker (Paul) Ryan is not serious about passing our “Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act,” so Members of Congress, advocacy groups, and impacted communities will not engage in this political stunt. If Speaker Ryan puts our bill on the floor, we plan to vote ‘no’ and will instead use the opportunity to force an urgently needed and long-overdue conversation on the House floor.
Progressive Democrats never thought their messaging bill, which would have disbanded Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency within a year, would make it to the floor. They didn’t try to build a coalition around it or even reach out to parts of the Democratic conference, Jayapal said. Now, they are trying to find a way to match Republican gamesmanship.
Generating support for the legislation could be tough even with more supporting votes. Polls have shown that many Americans generally do not support the idea of eliminating ICE. A recent Politico poll found that only 25% of Americans surveyed supported abolishing the agency, and a recent Rasmussen poll had similar findings.