WASHINGTON — The House passed a nonbinding resolution on Wednesday backing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and denouncing calls by some Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists to abolish it.
Lawmakers approved the resolution 244-35, with 133 Democrats voting present, which is akin to not voting at all. Eighteen Democrats voted in favor of the resolution, while 34 voted against it.
The resolution, proposed by Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., expressed support for ICE officers and personnel and argued that U.S. national security interests are dependent on those who carry out the nation’s immigration laws. The resolution had just over 50 co-sponsors ahead of the vote.
House GOP leaders had originally said they would bring up a Democratic bill proposed by Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., that would abolish the agency in order to put Democrats on the record. But Pocan said that he wouldn’t vote in favor of his own bill if it were put up for a show vote.
The resolution approved Wednesday said that abolishing ICE "would mean open borders because it would eliminate the agency responsible for removing people who enter or remain in our country illegally."
Calls to abolish ICE, it read, "are an insult to these heroic law enforcement officers who make sacrifices every day to secure our borders, enforce our laws and protect our safety and security" and that getting rid of the agency would allow "dangerous criminal aliens" to remain in the U.S.
A companion resolution has been introduced by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., in the upper chamber. It was brought up Wednesday afternoon, but Democrats blocked it.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement after the measure passed that calls to abolish the agency are "offensive" to ICE officers.
"ICE officers have the dangerous mission of rescuing exploited children and victims of human trafficking, as well as making arrests of dangerous criminal aliens," Goodlatte said. "Calls to abolish ICE are irresponsible, are opposed by the American people, and are offensive to the thousands of men and women who enforce our nation’s immigration laws to keep us safe and protect the homeland."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., meanwhile, said that he was voting present on the measure "because it's a sham and a distraction."
"It's an outrageous attempt to hide the continued suffering of children behind the partisans' attack on Democrats. This is exactly that kind of gotcha vote that alienates the Americans from our government. It's shameless and it's inappropriate," he said on the House floor ahead of the vote.
Last week, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that Democrats who support the "abolish ICE" movement are taking the “craziest position.”
Ahead of the vote, it was unclear how Democrats planned to vote on the resolution as party members have been divided over the issue for weeks. Several Senate Democrats — including potential 2020 presidential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have backed the movement, which ramped up after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose platform included doing away with ICE, defeated Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., in a primary election.
Democratic leaders, however, have stopped short of endorsing the movement and have instead called for reforming the agency.
Calls to abolish ICE reached a fever pitch among some progressives after reports emerged that hundreds of small children had been taken from their parents and were being held by the government as a result of President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy of separating families at the southern border. Trump was ultimately forced to back down amid bipartisan backlash, but his administration is now scurrying to comply with a court order to bring those families back together.
Most apprehensions of undocumented immigrants, however, are done by Customs and Border Protection on the border and at ports of entry to the U.S., while ICE apprehensions are conducted inside the U.S.