The call to put an end to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has become a rallying cry on social media with the #AbolishICE hashtag and has been endorsed by such prominent Democratic politicians as Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a potential 2020 presidential contender, and congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist from New York.

Even as the idea of abolishing the immigration law enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security gains traction among liberals, a poll released Monday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reveals that perhaps voters aren’t ready for the concept to dominant messaging for the 2018 midterms. According to the poll, only about a quarter of Democrats want to eliminate the agency.

However, that doesn’t mean they are happy with the agency’s performance or want the escalated number of deportations and family separations to continue at the U.S.-Mexico border. As the AP explains, “even as they don’t want to fully dismantle ICE, 57 percent of Democrats view the agency negatively, including nearly three-fourths of those who describe themselves as liberal.”

“The findings,” AP’s report continues, “demonstrate tension among Democrats about how to address the crisis at the border that intensified in June when the Trump administration instituted a family separation policy to deter illegal immigration.”

A third of Americans say they don’t know enough about the agency to form an opinion of it. Of the other two-thirds that do, opinions are divided on partisan lines, with Republicans generally having a more positive view of the agency than Democrats do:

The partisan divide is dramatic: 85 percent of Democrats say the administration is doing too little to reunite children with their families, compared to 22 percent of Republicans. Still, that means nearly a quarter of Republicans feel the administration should be doing more.

What the public can agree on, the AP reports, is that President Donald Trump’s administration has done a poor job of reuniting families separated at the border, as “nearly 6 in 10 think the Trump administration is doing too little, though 8 percent say it’s doing too much, and a third think it is doing enough.”

While ICE and its actions have gained more visibility in the last year, opposition to the agency is older than the Trump presidency.

As Ana Maria Archila, an immigration advocate and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, told Refinery 29 in July, “Since its creation, there were organizations that were saying that the inclusion of ICE as an agency that is designed specifically to separate families, put people in detention, to deport them is a dangerous development in the way we as a country relate to migration.”

The Refinery 29 article also points out that while the #AbolishICE hashtag may seem uniform across Twitter, in reality there is no clear agreement on what closing the agency would look like in practice:

For example, a group of DHS special agents recommended breaking up ICE and reorganizing it in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez support defunding the agency, opening a full congressional inquiry into its practices, and replacing ICE with a “humane” agency. Several Democrats in Congress have been open to the idea to creating a bill to eliminate the agency and look for replacement options.

However, the AP poll suggests that reform rather than abolition is the more likely option.


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