WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed back on the call by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other liberal Democrats to abolish or refashion the federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency, tweeting, “It will never happen!”
Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the past week said in interviews, emails and tweets that it is time to “reimagine” a new agency to replace ICE before hundreds of marches across the country Saturday to protest Trump’s border policies.
“I believe we need to protect families who need help, and ICE isn’t doing that. It has become a deportation force,” Gillibrand tweeted. “We need to abolish ICE, start over and build something that actually works.”
Trump backed the current agency, which he has charged with carrying out tougher, stricter enforcement in a campaign against illegal immigration, as he tweeted from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, where he is spending the July Fourth holiday.
“The Democrats are making a strong push to abolish ICE, one of the smartest, toughest and most spirited law enforcement groups of men and women that I have ever seen. I have watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13 & clean out the toughest of situations. They are great!” he tweeted.
“To the great and brave men and women of ICE, do not worry or lose your spirit,” he posted in another tweet, adding, “Zero chance, It will never happen!”
In an excerpt, released Saturday, of a taped interview with Fox News' “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo," Trump suggested Democrats are handing him a potent political issue.
"Well I hope they keep thinking about it, because they’re going to get beaten so badly,” Trump said. “Get rid of ICE, you’re going to have a country that you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house. I love that issue if they’re going to actually do that.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and other Republicans joined Trump in rejecting the idea of abolishing ICE.
Some mainstream Democrats worry immigration could play a major role in the midterm elections. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told the Axios news website, "I worry that abolishing ICE tips the issues from humane treatment to security. The Republicans are already trying to move the issue in that direction."
Last Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke about reforming ICE, but did not say it should be abolished.
Congress and the Bush administration created ICE in 2003, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the former U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The agency said ICE now has more than 20,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $6 billion for enforcement and removal, investigation and legal operations.
But in the furor over the Trump administration’s decision to file criminal charges for illegal entry at the southern border, resulting in the separation of children from migrant families — a policy now suspended — critics say ICE needs to be scrapped and rebuilt.
Gillibrand joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, in making that call.
“The President's deeply immoral actions have made it obvious -- we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom, starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works,” Warren said at a Boston protest march Saturday.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also said last week that ICE should be abolished.
And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Socialist who pulled a stunning upset primary defeat of 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens), ran on a platform that included abolishing ICE.
“ICE was established with the Patriot Act, with the Iraq war, with AUMF, with DHS,” she said last week on CNN. “And we look at all that legislation now as a mistake.”