WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers in Washington have about a week left before returning to their districts for a long August recess, putting pressure on Republican leaders to send their members home with something to talk about when it comes to immigration.
To that end, the House GOP used a symbolic vote on a measure praising U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to force Democrats to take a stand on the debate over the agency, which liberals want to abolish. The legislation passed Wednesday on a 244 to 35 vote, largely on party lines, with most Democrats avoiding taking a position at all by simply voting present rather than yes or no.
Republicans are hoping to use the vote to portray Democrats as weak on crime after liberal lawmakers and candidates recently began calling for the end of the agency or the rethinking of its mission, arguing it is acting as an overly aggressive deportation force.
“I think it shows an important contrast in this country about what’s at stake in this November election. We stand up for our ICE agents and the people that are keeping America,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said.
Tensions among Democrats over ICE have been evident in recent weeks with some more moderate Democrats saying calls to abolish the agency is a step too far.
“We will always need some federal entity to enforce our immigration laws,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. “The abolish ICE movement is totally misdirected.”
The House vote was mostly seen as political stunt, with a similar measure failing in the Senate. The risk for House Democrats in voting no is alienating voters in competitive districts who want immigration laws strictly enforced.
“When people are really focused on security as they are, and they are ginned up on what’s going on the border, you run the risk of being soft on immigration,” said Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor at Howard University.
There remains the potential for immigration fights to come up over and over again ahead of the midterms. President Trump sees the battle as a win for his party in the fight over who will control Congress following November’s elections.
Democrats have been highlighting the Trump administration’s zero tolerance border policy, which led to the separation of thousands of families, as an issue they can bring to voters this election year, particularly in pockets of the country where immigration is more popular.
“I think we need to focus on the families and not the law enforcement mechanism,” Doggett said.