Most Democrats in the House of Representatives refused on Wednesday to vote for or against a nonbinding resolution supporting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) sponsored the resolution in response to calls from some Democrats to abolish the agency. He noted during debate on the House floor that ICE last year arrested 127,000 illegal immigrant criminals whose crimes included 1,800 homicides, 76,000 drug offenses, 48,000 assaults, and 11,000 weapons violations.
Higgins, who is a reserve deputy marshal in the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office, said he was a member of the “thin blue line” and wanted to show solidarity with the men and women of ICE.
“This attack on ICE is personal to me,” Higgins said.
The resolution passed 244-35, with 34 Democrats joining Republican Justin Amash of Michigan in voting “no.” Only 18 Democrats supported it; 133 Democrats voted “present,” including Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who argued it was a stunt that had no meaningful impact while leaving pressing immigration problems unaddressed.
“This resolution is the legislative equivalent of fiddling while Rome is burning,” he said.
Nadler said the House should be concentrating on reuniting children separated from parents charged with immigration offenses.
“We do not have the time to waste with political stunts like this bill while the moral fiber of our country is torn apart … I have no desire to play the Republicans’ immoral games on this right now,” he said. “We have much more important things to do right now.”
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Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), suggested most Democrats took the cowardly route by neither standing with their constituents who want immigration enforcement, nor risking offense to radical immigration activists.
“They lack courage,” Mehlman said. Mehlman said the vote is just the latest sign of how far the Democratic Party has moved from just a few years ago, when its lawmakers regularly pledged to improve border security.
“What we’re seeing here now [is that] for many Democrats, the question is not how we should enforce immigration laws but whether we should enforce them at all,” he said.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) lambasted his Democratic colleagues.
“Today, House Democrats made a public profession in our immigration debate: they are completely and irresponsibly absent,” he said in a statement. “After weeks of radical and dangerous calls to abolish ICE, almost every House Democrat voted neither yes or no on supporting the ICE officers who risk their lives to combat violent criminals, drug cartels and human traffickers. It is crystal clear they only want to exploit our broken immigration system for political gain at the cost of American families, wanting no part of working towards a solution.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) originally had intended to move a bill sponsored by several Democrats to eliminate ICE. The idea was to put mainstream Democrats on the spot.
But they substituted the resolution sponsored by Higgins instead at the behest of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), according to The Hill.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) noted during the debate that Democrats and Republicans used to work together on immigration enforcement issues. He pointed out that the vote to create the agency as part of a reorganization of the federal government after 9/11 enjoyed bipartisan support.
“Now, it appears that they are outraged that ICE has the audacity to actually enforce the laws that we have enacted,” he said.