Trump Attacks ‘Abolish ICE’ Movement Ahead of Midterm Elections

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump asked state and local officials to denounce criticism of federal immigration officials and cooperate with efforts to apprehend undocumented immigrants, taking aim at the “abolish ICE” movement promoted by some Democrats.

Trump hosted an event at the White House on Monday to celebrate the work of the government’s two main immigration enforcement agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. At the event, he recounted crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and attacked Democrats who have criticized federal immigration authorities for abuses.

“It’s just a small group that gets a lot of publicity because they have no courage, they have no guts, they just have big, loud mouths,” Trump said. “Any politician who puts criminal aliens before American citizens should find a new line of work.”

Trump repeatedly called the Border Patrol agency “CBC,” an acronym most closely identified in Washington with the Congressional Black Caucus. He remarked “speaks perfect English” before inviting a Border Patrol agent, Adrian Anzaldua, to recount how he helped find 78 undocumented immigrants smuggled into the U.S. in a trailer.

The president has sought to make immigration a central issue in the midterm elections, highlighting a fringe movement on the left to eliminate ICE over what some immigration advocates say has been overreach by the agency, created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Democratic congressional leaders have sought to distance themselves from calls to abolish the agency.

Under Trump, ICE has been encouraged to more aggressively locate, arrest and deport undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., even those who aren’t considered public safety threats.

“Tragically, the brave men and women of ICE have recently been subjected to a nationwide campaign of smears, insults and attacks by politicians shamelessly catering to the extreme elements in our society that desire lawlessness and anarchy,” Trump wrote in a letter to state and local officials released by the White House on Monday.

Critics of the president’s immigration policies have highlighted instances of brutality by government agents as the Trump administration has tried to accelerate deportations.

“In the past week alone, agents have been charged with rape, sexual assault, strangulation, entrapment, and forced labor,” Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration activist group America’s Voice, said in a statement. “Just curious: will any of these agents be at the White House pep rally on Monday?”

Proponents of eliminating ICE include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described socialist who defeated incumbent Representative Joe Crowley of New York in a Democratic primary, vaulting her to national prominence.

Trump has said explicitly that he regards immigration as a winning issue for Republicans ahead of November’s elections, even after public outrage over his administration’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings. The policy led to about 2,500 migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents and caregivers after they were apprehended crossing the border in the spring.

Political pressure caused Trump to retreat from the policy, and his administration has cooperated with a federal judge in San Diego who ordered that the children be reunified with their families or released to relatives or other sponsors in the U.S. Still, about a fifth of the migrant children remain in federal custody.

As of August 16, there were 565 children who’d been separated from family -- including 24 under the age of five -- who hadn’t been reunified with a parent or caregiver. That included 366 children whose parents are outside the U.S. and whom the Trump administration wants to reunify only if they return to their home countries.

Yet Trump sees political advantage in staking out hard-line policies on immigration. During a cabinet meeting last week, the president said his administration was “setting records” in border enforcement and predicted Democrats’ opposition to his proposals, including a border wall and curbs on legal immigration, would hurt them in the midterms.

The border patrol has said apprehensions at the Southwest border rose more than 70 percent in July from a year ago.

“We’re setting records despite horrible, horrible immigration laws that the Democrats do not want to fix, and I think that’s going to hurt them very badly at the polls come November,” Trump said. “That’s my opinion.”

The president has also considered shutting down the government if Democrats refuse to include funding for the border wall in annual spending bills. He’s acknowledged that many of his allies in Congress don’t support the strategy and instead have encouraged him to wait until after the elections.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.