Abolish ICE. It's an idea that has captured parts of the left the way "Build the Wall" has the right: Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and newly minted lefty hero Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have all embraced this slogan. And as far as slogans go, it's a good one: confident, pithy, and short enough to fit on a shirt. Plus, as ICE has become the face of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy for asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, it's a big fuck you to one Donald J. Trump. What's not to like?
Unfortunately, there's a lot.
ICE isn't an old government agency but it is a particularly odious one. Created by the Homeland Security Act in the wake of 9/11, ICE is a mega-agency comprised of what used to be called United States Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Its duties include investigating violations of immigration laws as well as deporting undocumented immigrants, and, as of recently, separating families at the border in an unusually cruel attempt to send a message to potential immigrants thinking of coming to the U.S. With over 20,000 employees across and a budget of $7.6 billion in 2018, ICE is huge and hugely hated, at least among liberals and lefties at this moment in time—although, to be fair, you heard less about ICE under Obama, the president known among immigration activists as the "Deporter in Chief."
"Abolish ICE" may be the kind of slogan that ramps up people with cardboard protest signs at the ready, but the more activists yell "Abolish ICE," the more Trump gloats, as he did this week on Twitter.
The Liberal Left, also known as the Democrats, want to get rid of ICE, who do a fantastic job, and want Open Borders. Crime would be rampant and uncontrollable! Make America Great Again
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2018
Abolishing ICE and opening borders are clearly not the same thing, but I think, in this one case, Trump may be right: Abolishing ICE is not a winning agenda. You scream "Abolish ICE," and the electorate hears "open immigration." And while I personally think that we need more immigration, not less, it's not an argument that is going to go over well with much of the public. According to a Rasmussen poll released Thursday, only 25 percent of respondents were in favor of abolishing ICE. Republicans will be able to use that to their advantage come November.
Besides, ICE is the symptom, not the disease, and even if you abolish the agency, the bad policies (and bad people) that enable ICE still exist. To me, it seems politically wiser to talk about rational, evidence-based, human-centered immigration reform, but, of course, that doesn't fit on a t-shirt.
The Democrats need a compelling message this election season, but "Abolish ICE" ain't it. It's alienating to law and order moderates, to the people who might not like Donald Trump but thought Hillary Clinton was a snake in the grass so sat the 2016 election out. And if the goal is to only attract voters who have "I <3 Immigrants" bumper stickers and own the complete Joan Baez collection on vinyl, that's fine, but I think the Dems would be more astute to focus on a problem that impacts everyone in the country, and that's not ICE. There's a reason people get up in arms about taxes or gas prices or the rising cost of living or the possibility of Medicare for all: These issues impact us, all of us, on a daily basis in a way that immigration reform just does not for the majority of Americans. In light of this, Democrats, I have an idea for a new slogan: Fix the Weather.
Ok, so the slogan may need some tweaking ("Save the Planet" has a nice ring but clearly people don't give a shit about that), but in recent years, weather has become a real source of anxiety. This, of course, is because of climate change and its effects: Floods, fires, storms, and heatwaves are bigger now, scarier, and the repercussions are felt across the U.S. Right now, at the very beginning of the summer, wildfires are burning their way across California, Colorado, New Mexico, and more. My sister in Colorado is currently waiting to find out if she needs to evacuate her home along with her husband, two children, and the friends staying with them who had to flee their own home in the middle of the night on July 4th. The whole town has been told to have bags packed, ready to go, and you can't walk outside without your eyes immediately stinging. At the same time, less than a year after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, the floods are back in that part of Texas. In the Northeast, a record-breaking heat wave has left dozens dead. In the West, years of drought and mismanagement have made water a precious, and rapidly disappearing, source. The fact that all of us are not constantly freaking out about all this is, quite frankly, mystifying.
Climate change is the biggest, most important story in the world and yet it gets all the media coverage of a local Little League game. Climate change isn't good for ratings: It's abstract and can feel awfully far away—a problem for polar bears, not humans. But if the Democrats actually made climate change a central part of their platform and not a parenthetical that is rarely, if ever, mentioned, maybe this would start to change. Because climate—weather—does impact people's lives. They see it, they feel it, they have to pack up and move their families when the storms, fires, or floods come baring down. So, Democrats, if you want people to rally around a message this election season, forget abolishing ICE, which will inspire only the hardcore left. Instead, talk about windstorms, wildfires, floods, droughts, landslides, and, yes, ice—but the polar ice that is rapidly melting and will eventually flood our coasts, not the ICE that rounds up and deports humans trying to make a new life. Both are bad, but only one impacts all of us, regardless of your stance on immigration.
People respond to fear, and what's more terrifying than extreme, uncontrollable weather? The left needs to harness this fear, exactly as Trump does when he screams about "open borders." Because the reality is, global climate change is going to exacerbate humanitarian crises all over the planet and lead to more migration as an increasing number of places become inhospitable for human life. The disasters have already begun, and it's high time the Democrats start screaming about it.