Demo­crat chair rules out at­tempts for abol­ish­ing ICE

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ben­nie G. Thomp­son flatly ruled out any ef­forts to abol­ish U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, say­ing that while the agency may need a “tweak,” he sup­ports its mis­sion.

The Mis­sis­sippi Demo­crat’s dec­la­ra­tion, made in an in­ter­view taped Fri­day for C-SPAN’s “News­mak­ers” pro­gram, puts the nail in al­ready faint hopes of im­mi­grantrights ac­tivists who had said the agency had gone over­board and needed to be nixed.

“I’ve been a sup­porter of ICE. They do a job, but just like any op­er­a­tion, we can re­view what they do and if we need to tweak it I’m com­mit­ted to do­ing that. There’s been some ques­tion about ICE’s in­te­rior en­force­ment — we need to look at that,” Mr. Thomp­son said.

Asked if he would al­low a bill to abol­ish ICE to come through his com­mit­tee, he flatly re­jected the idea: “No.”

On the bor­der wall and shut­down fight, Mr. Thomp­son said he’s not op­posed to spend­ing money on bor­der bar­ri­ers, and ac­knowl­edged vot­ing for such money in the past.

He said the trou­ble with Pres­i­dent Trump’s cur­rent de­mand is that there’s not enough de­tail on how the $5.7 bil­lion re­quest would be spent.

“In the past, projects that I have sup­ported, I’ll sup­port again, if the plans are there. But we don’t have the plans,” he said. “In the ab­sence of a plan, I’ll join my Demo­cratic col­leagues and op­pose a so-called wall.”

Mr. Thomp­son is re­turn­ing to the chair­man’s post, which he also held the last time Democrats were in power, with an ex­pan­sive agenda.

His most im­me­di­ate com­mit­tee pri­or­ity is de­mand­ing an ap­pear­ance by Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen, who he said only tes­ti­fied once to the panel last year.

He said he had ques­tions about her com­pe­tence.

“Some of us have some con­cerns about whether or not she’s been up to the task, but we’ll give her a chance to de­fend her po­si­tion,” the con­gress­man said.

Also in the plans are hear­ings with the chiefs of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion and the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Thomp­son seemed to be brac­ing for bat­tles with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion over in­for­ma­tion and ac­cess, say­ing he ex­pects things to im­prove com­pared to the last two years when in­for­ma­tion was of­ten late or over-redacted.

In other busi­ness, he said his com­mit­tee is work­ing on pipe­line and port se­cu­rity and will work with other pan­els who share ju­ris­dic­tion on elec­tion se­cu­rity to craft more help for states deal­ing with po­ten­tial breaches and for­eign med­dling.

He said the move back to­ward a pa­per trail for votes has been sur­pris­ing.

He said the 2018 elec­tion went smoother than some had feared be­cause states were on the look­out and bad ac­tors were aware the U.S. was alert.

“I think be­cause peo­ple knew we were watch­ing that many of those things did not oc­cur,” he said. “We did not have as much mis­chief in 2018 as we did in 2016, and some of it was prob­a­bly as­so­ci­ated with the train­ing of of­fi­cials was bet­ter.”

Mr. Thomp­son said his com­mit­tee has had a tra­di­tion of work­ing in a bi­par­ti­san fash­ion, and he hoped to con­tinue that and ex­tend it to work­ing with the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But the pol­i­tics of im­mi­gra­tion could sour those hopes, with Mr. Trump de­mand­ing a crack­down on what he sees as a se­cu­rity emer­gency, while Democrats dis­miss that as hy­per­bole.

Dur­ing the cam­paign some Democrats even an­nounced their sup­port for elim­i­nat­ing ICE, the agency that de­tains and de­ports il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Some lib­eral Democrats an­nounced leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a com­mis­sion to abol­ish the agency and shift its du­ties else­where.

The frenzy peaked in the sum­mer, as the pres­i­dent was back­ing away from his con­tro­ver­sial zero tol­er­ance bor­der pol­icy and the fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions that re­sulted.

Mr. Thomp­son’s stance de­rails plans to elim­i­nate the agency — though he said Congress will ex­am­ine de­ten­tion poli­cies un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.


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