Pocan's 'abolish ICE' call divides Democrats

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Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan represents a Madison-dominated district that is one of the safest for Democrats in the nation. He got 68% of the vote two years ago and has no Republican challenger this year.

So the 2nd District lawmaker pays no political price for leading the U.S. House push to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that enforces immigration laws and orders of President Trump as part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Pocan and other Democrats blame ICE for rounding up thousands of immigrants in the country illegally for decades who have been working, raising families and committing no new crimes.

ICE has arrested adults over "parking violations," Pocan told reporters.

"Whether people are saying reform it, or they're saying abolish it, what we're all saying right now is that ICE is being misused by the President in a way that makes it unable to function as it needs to," Pocan added.

But, seeing a political opportunity, Trump and other Republicans say abolishing ICE would put the nation at risk of being overrun by illegal immigrants.

"Democrats are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women I have ever seen," Trump tweeted.

Responding, Pocan said, "We're not saying we want open borders. ICE does not patrol the borders. It protects the interior, addresses domestic terrorism, human trafficking."

A national Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 54% of respondents want to keep ICE, and only 25% want to abolish it.

Pocan isn't speaking for all Wisconsin Democrats, however.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, in a tough fight to win a second term on Nov. 6, broke with Pocan on the issue.

America "should not" abolish ICE, Baldwin told reporters.

Instead, Baldwin said the agency should be focused on "targeting violent criminals and drug traffickers - not families and refugees."

Third District Democratic Congressman Ron Kind also opposed Pocan's call to abolish ICE. The problems are not with ICE but "at the top [with] the policy maker," Kind told Wisconsin Public Radio last week.

Pocan is a senior Democratic Party strategist, but first-time Democratic candidates for Congress also aren't joining his call to abolish ICE.

Margaret Engebretson, of Balsam Lake, one of two Democrats running against 7th District Republican Congressman Sean Duffy, said ICE should not be abolished.

Although news stories have shown some ICE agents acting in "inhumane and unacceptable'" ways, those agents are only reflecting the "toxic" leadership style of the agency's leaders, Engebretson in a WisconsinEye interview.

Engebretson's opponent in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary, Marshfield physician Brian Ewert, also refused to call for ICE to be abolished.

Congress has failed to "craft policy and pass sound laws" governing ICE, so Presidents Trump and Obama have had to issue conflicting executive orders specifying how the agency carries out its mission - resulting in "executive chaos," Ewert said.

"It's not so much whether there is ICE or isn't ICE, it's having sound policy legislation underneath [specifying] what their task exactly is, and how they carry out that task," Ewert said in a separate WisconsinEye interview.

Cathy Myers, one of two Democrats running in the 1st Congressional District, said Pocan and other Democrats in Washington are not trying to do away with enforcement of immigration laws.

But, she added in a WisconsinEye candidate interview, ICE "needs go back under the purview of the Department of Justice. There's no oversight [of ICE] in the Department of Homeland Security."

ICE is not upholding legal requirements of "the rule of law and due process," Myers added.

Myers and Randy Bryce, of Caledonia, are opposing each other in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary to replace retiring Republican Congressman Paul Ryan in the 1st District.

Bryce, a union ironworker, joined Pocan's call to abolish ICE.

"I don't see any reason for having a government agency that people are afraid to call to ask for assistance," Bryce told WisconsinEye, adding:

"That's going to make them afraid to call a police officer, if someone is trying to break into their house. 'No - are they going to send ICE [agents] instead'?"

Gary George, the Milwaukee Democrat and former state senator who is again challenging 4th District Congresswoman Gwen Moore in the Aug. 14 primary, also supported abolishing ICE.

"What we need to do is return to an 'immigration service' - not a 'law enforcement' service," George said in a candidate interview.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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