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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Let’s be honest about immigration

Protesters block the entrance to a federal building

Protesters block the entrance to a federal building housing Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices on July 2 in San Diego. Credit: AP / Gregory Bull

As the rallying cry of “Abolish ICE” and the opposition to that cry catch fire, it’s clear that the only thing limiting how much Democrats can shoot themselves in the feet is their foot supply. But this blowup is also an opportunity to look at the deception on both sides of the debate, much of it self-deception, and craft a more honest conversation.

ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency that since 2003 has handled Homeland Security investigations, enforcement of immigration laws and removal of people violating those laws.

“Abolish ICE” is a campaign slogan of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is the 28-year-old far-left leaning congressional candidate who beat 10-term Rep. Joseph Crowley in a Democratic primary like a dusty carpet getting broom-whipped on a Bronx stoop.

Ocasio-Cortez is expected to win the general election by 3 gazillion votes. And her “Abolish ICE” message is catching on with established Democrats, including potential presidential candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.

It’s equally popular, albeit as a political piñata, for Republican opponents including President Donald Trump. They claim it means Democrats want to let immigrants stream over open borders and stay here forever.

The “abolitionists” claim they have a much more nuanced point. They say they oppose the ruthless tactics of Trump and ICE, such as arresting everyone who crosses the border illegally or seeks asylum, and separating parents from children. But these Democrats say they do believe we should be able to control our borders, keep out immigrants here illegally, and expel those who make it in. Someday. Once we get comprehensive immigration reform, whatever that is.

But if we are honest, those of us who support the “Dreamers” who were brought here illegally by their parents, we have to admit we will always support such people. I will not be any less moved by the plight of a “Dreamer’ brought here in 2025 as a 2-year-old than I am by the plight of the one brought here in 2001 as a 2-year-old. The same is true of the peaceful immigrants here illegally who have built lives and families in the United States. I will never support expelling them, not even if we agreed to “comprehensive immigration reform.”

I think that’s generally true of the “Abolish ICE” crowd. It will always support letting good people who came here illegally stay indefinitely.

So let’s be honest about it.

The deception and self-deception on the other side of the debate is in the form of “we support immigrants and immigration, as long as it’s legal.”

If that were the case, we could answer the immigration concerns of Republicans by legalizing unlimited immigration from Central America. Boom, what once was called a crime is suddenly just striving.

In truth, Trump and his base want to change and curtail legal immigration from the traditional model of masses of poor people coming to better their lives. Trump’s plan would let in only a much smaller group of educated, affluent people who speak English. And much of the base would prefer that new immigrants be Christian and pale.

The narrative that we ought to be able to get a deal on immigration because the two sides fundamentally agree is false. Neither side is what it claims to be. Both are more nearly what their opponents claim them to be, although the Democrats don’t really want to import MS-13 members, and the Trump fans don’t really want helpless babies in government custody.

A deal on immigration is certainly possible, but the starting point for both sides has to be the truth about their goals.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.