McGovern backs movement to abolish ICE

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, far left, called for the abolition of ICE at an event last weekend in Amherst. Here, he is pictured June 19 in Washington with Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., center, who is holding a photo of a young boy at the border. She is joined by, from left, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-NY, Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., Rep. Juan C. Vargas, D-Calif., and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. AP file photo

  • Congressman Jim McGovern speaks during an Ag Summit at Mohawk Regional Trail High School, earlier this year in Buckland. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Thursday, July 05, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Saying that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has evolved into an agency that’s “ripping families apart,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern has become one of the first members of Congress to call for its abolition.

McGovern, D-Worcester, made the declaration at an event last Saturday at the First Congregational Church of Amherst, where he spoke at an event with Lucio Perez, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who has taken refuge in the church from deportation.

In his remarks at the church, McGovern said that ICE had turned into something that is dedicated to “ripping families apart.”

“The time has come ... to re-evaluate what we have in place and get rid of ICE,” said McGovern, to applause.

When McGovern spoke to the Gazette last week about the Trump administration’s family separation policy, he was not yet willing to endorse ICE’s abolishment. When asked in an interview Wednesday what had changed, the Democrat said that he’d been thinking about the issue, and that he was moved by the words of Perez and Eduardo Samaniego, a “Dreamer,” undocumented immigrant, Hampshire College student and organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

“I’d like to ask … our congressman to call for the abolition of ICE,” said Samaniego, in his remarks at the church last Saturday.

Earlier, Samaniego said that until ICE is abolished, people like him and families like Perez’s would not be secure in their everyday life.

McGovern said that hearing these men speak compelled him to take a stand in favor of abolishing ICE.

“I learn from these experiences,” said McGovern, speaking of going out into the community for events like those at the church.

McGovern said that following the event he returned to Worcester and went to buy groceries, a process that took an estimated two hours.

“On every aisle, someone was stopping me,” said McGovern, saying that people were expressing horror, sometimes through tears, at children being separated from their families at the border.

On Tuesday, McGovern noted in a press release that he voted against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and ICE in 2002 because he feared it could be used to attack immigrant communities and tear apart families.

“Unfortunately, President Trump has confirmed my worst fears,” said McGovern, in the release. “Under his direction, ICE has completely lost its legitimacy — it’s time to start from scratch. We should maintain and strengthen what’s working, and review and re-think how immigration officers prioritize enforcement in our communities. Whatever comes next — it needs to partner with our communities and work in their best interests, not against them.”

ICE was formed in 2003 through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the former U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, according to its website. It enforces federal laws governing immigration, border control, trade and customs.

On Monday, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, announced his intention to craft a bill to abolish the organization, following a trip to the nation’s southern border.

“From conducting raids at garden centers and meatpacking plants, to breaking up families at churches and schools, ICE is tearing apart families and ripping at the moral fabric of our nation,” said Pocan, in a release. “Unfortunately, President Trump and his team of white nationalists, including Stephen Miller, have so misused ICE that the agency can no longer accomplish its goals effectively.”

“I’m introducing legislation that would abolish ICE and crack down on the agency’s blanket directive to target and round up individuals and families,” Pocan continued.

According to the release, the legislation would dismantle ICE and form a commission to make recommendations to Congress on how the federal government can implement a humane immigration enforcement system.

McGovern said that he spoke to Pocan on Monday and that both of their offices are involved in drafting the bill, along with the offices of others in Congress, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.

“We’re not rushing something to the floor,” said McGovern, who confirmed that he would be a co-sponsor of the legislation.

As for its chances, McGovern noted that Democrats do not control the House. However, he said that he hopes that it promotes discussion, at a minimum.

“I think the status quo is not working,” said McGovern.

Bob Massie, who is battling for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts governor, has come out in favor of ICE abolishment and for Pocan’s bill.

“Immigration control should be in the hands of the Justice Department, as it once was, not under the purview of people who are trained to hunt down terrorists,” said Massie, in a Tuesday release. “I thus endorse Rep. Pocan’s bill because it’s time to end the cruel, seemingly limitless reign of ICE and begin treating immigration as a civil legal issue, not another front for the War on Terror.”

ICE abolishment also was an issue in the Democratic primary election for New York’s 14th Congressional District, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running against Rep. Joe Crowley, D-Queens, made ICE abolishment a key plank in her campaign.

On Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez decsively defeated Crowley, who chose not to call for the agency’s abolishment.

Meanwhile, in the race between Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Springfield attorney Tahira Amatul-Wadud for Massachsuetts’ 1st Congressional District, neither candidate has committed to the abolition of ICE.

“I’m not going to say I’m supportive of the abolition of ICE without a greater conversation around what immigration reform looks like,” Amatul-Wadud said to the Gazette last week.

The country’s immigration system, she said, needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt.

“We definitely need comprehensive immigration reform... and the history of ICE is problematic,” she said.

Asked about the Pocan bill on Wednesday, Amatul-Wadud said it is a little premature to speak on it.

In a statement sent to the Gazette, Neal criticized the administration’s immigration policy and called for ICE’s overhaul.

“The agency clearly needs to be reformed, overhauled and streamlined. We can make common sense corrections like adding judges, targeting border patrol abuse, while protecting the constitutional guarantee of due process,” Neal said in the statement. “I share the view of most of Americans who want a more compassionate immigration system that reflects our country’s basic values. The crisis on the U.S.-Mexican border has only reinforced my belief that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform now.”

Neal also expressed outrage at family separations at the border, and noted his sponsorship of the “Keep Families Together Act,” which would end the Trump administrations “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Gazette reporter Dusty Christensen contributed to this report. Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.