Staff Columnist

Congress's immigration debate is politics, not policymaking

Some earn political points with disingenuous proposals, others by staying quiet

Demonstrators hold a sign Wednesday that reads “End ICE” during a protest against detaining and separating immigrant families outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer
Demonstrators hold a sign Wednesday that reads “End ICE” during a protest against detaining and separating immigrant families outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer

Democrats came very close to taking a bold stance on an important issue last week.

Amid growing outrage over the federal immigration enforcement operations, liberals and progressives this year started calling to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In a remarkably short span of time, “abolish ICE” went from a radical protest slogan to a seemingly legitimate legislative proposal.

Last week, left-leaning members of the U.S. House introduced a bill to make it happen. The legislation calls for a commission to establish a “humane immigration enforcement system,” and terminate ICE within one year.

“ICE’s work has radically shifted from its ‘primary mission’ of preventing acts of terrorism, as articulated by the Department of Justice in 2004, to carrying out detention and deportation activities as its core focus. … These removal operations have torn apart families and communities and disrupted businesses throughout the country,” authors wrote in the proposed Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act.

The fact the bill was even introduced seemed to be a political victory for the grass roots left. However, Republicans surprised Democrats by indicating they’ll allow a vote on the bill to move forward, forcing Democrats to take an on-the-record position on a contentious issue just a few months before they face re-election. Democrats, including some who have loudly called to abolish ICE, quickly changed course and said they will vote against the proposal.

Politicians in the legislative minority wanted credit for taking a bold position, but apparently they don’t actually want to see their ideas become law.

Insiders call this sort of legislation a “messaging bill,” meant to fire up the partisan base, but not a genuine attempt at policymaking. It’s a crumby way to run a government, and both sides participate. Recall when Republicans spent several years voting to repeal Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama, but legislative leaders stopped well short of full repeal once they had the opportunity under President Donald Trump.

Conversely, we also have lawmakers who try to retain political support through silence and inaction. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack did not respond to my request for a comment last week on the abolish ICE legislation. For the sake of transparency, I worked for Loebsack’s Republican challenger during the last election.

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Loebsack has not published any official statements on immigration this year, even as an ICE raid in his district, swept up 32 workers.

It’s not surprising to see Loebsack, Iowa’s only federally elected Democrat, hasn’t taken a position on reforming immigration enforcement. He has never been an early adopter of progressive viewpoints and he’s running for re-election as a Democrat in a congressional district Trump won two years ago.

There are advocates on all sides of the immigration policy debate who legitimately believe what they’re saying, but there seem to be many more people in Washington, D.C. who see immigration talking points as an opportunity to score political points. That’s no way to solve a crisis.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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