There are few things more powerful in politics than a dumb idea whose time has come.
This accounts for the seemingly inexorable momentum of the rallying cry “Abolish ICE,” which has rapidly gone from fantastical left-wing cause to mainstream Democratic issue embraced by prospective presidential candidates. The great advantage of “Abolish ICE” is precisely its witless simplicity and emotive symbolism removed from any practical considerations of government.
The roots of ICE go back 15 years and are hardly nefarious. The old Immigration and Naturalization Service handled both legal and illegal immigration. Bipartisan legislation placed the agency in the new Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, which was in part a failure of immigration enforcement, and split up its functions. ICE got interior enforcement.
Who would carry out enforcement of immigration laws if not ICE? Going back to the pre-ICE status quo would mean reuniting all immigration functions in an agency like the INS housed at the Justice Department and directly under the control of none other than Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
That’s a non-starter. So the Democratic plan is to ax a major law-enforcement agency and figure out the rest later.