Call to Abolish ICE Is ‘Low-Hanging Fruit,’ Jeh Johnson Says

Obama's former homeland security head defended the immigration enforcement agency amid pressure from liberal activists

Former Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson doubled down on his defense of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency Monday on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily,” describing demands for abolishing it as “low-hanging fruit.”

In an interview with MSNBC Anchor Katy Tur, Johnson said the agency “does a lot of very, very important things. I just believe that the focus needs to be in a certain direction for the benefit of public safety. Don’t just go after the low-hanging fruit.”

Johnson, who served in former President Barack Obama’s administration, previously pushed back against liberals calling for abolishing ICE due to the Trump administration’s since-scrapped zero tolerance policy of separating illegal immigrant children from their arrested parents at the border.

“Abolish ICE” became a rallying cry for liberal activists after Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June 26 upset victory in the Democratic primary against House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). Ocasio-Cortez’s platform included the demand, which previously was only rarely seen except on the far-Left fringes of the Democratic Party.

But Johnson penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in June called “Abolishing ICE is not a serious policy proposal.”

‘”Abolish ICE” makes for a good rallying cry on the Left. Demanding the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency also provides President [Donald] Trump with a useful weapon for bludgeoning Democrats politically,” Jeh warned in his op-ed.

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Johnson insisted that “the outright abolition of ICE would compromise public safety” and emphasized that two key components comprise ICE: Enforcement and Removal Operations and Homeland Security Investigations. The former DHS secretary reinforced this line of reasoning Monday during his MSNBC interview.

“There is a movement to abolish ICE. It’s been painted as a racist agency, an agency that is doing more harm than good,” Tur said to Johnson. “You’ve argued that they shouldn’t abolish ICE but there should be a change in leadership and there should be a change in the functionality or the direction of ICE. Isn’t that essentially the same thing?”

Johnson stood his ground.

“No. Abolishing the agency is not the same thing as giving them a whole different policy direction,” Johnson replied.

But Tur persisted, insisting, “Isn’t that just — I mean that’s doing everything but changing the name?”

Johnson said he “would disagree” with Tur’s characterization.

“There are a lot of people who objected to the Vietnam War in the ‘60s, but very few people said we should abolish the Department of Defense (DOD) and try to reconfigure it in some other way,” Johnson said.

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“ICE is removal operations, but it’s also homeland security and investigates crime having to do with customs and the border, counterfeit currency, child pornography,” he said.

Although Johnson is remaining firm, and many moderate Democrats are wary of jumping on the “Abolish ICE” bandwagon, Ocasio-Cortez and liberal activists continue their calls.

“It’s a losing message for [Democrats],” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said Monday on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “We have Democrats now on the radical Left who want to eliminate ICE. What a radical idea. They’re protecting us. They’re helping catch sex traffickers. We need ICE, we need a border wall.”

“Let’s take the politics out of it for a moment. The people of America want the border secure. It’s clear, that’s why the president was elected, including Democrats who voted for him,” Patrick continued, saying that weak borders “must end.”

“It takes drastic measures because we have … in the U.S. Senate the tyranny of the minority,” Patrick added. “The minority Democrats are blocking any legislation. It’s like they have veto power like the president.”

Patrick said it is time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take the action necessary to deliver Trump’s immigration enforcement demands.

“You cannot let the minority party block legislation that Congress will pass and the people want, to end chain migration, focus on DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], and build the wall,” Patrick said. “It’s time to get it done.”

(photo credit, article image: Abolish ICE Banner, CC BY-SA 4.0, by Carwil Bjork-James)

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