Less than two months after activists launched the edgy slogan “Abolish ICE,” the White House on Monday brought more than 100 law enforcement agency leaders and staff to Washington to hear praise and gratitude for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s work.
Both President Trump and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., also took the opportunity in the East Room ceremony to predict victory in fulfilling Trump’s long-time campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I think he will” get his border wall, Perdue said when asked at a panel discussion of agency heads. “It’s no longer a debate between zero and $25 billion, but between $2 billion and $5 billion,” for wall funding provided in preliminary Senate and House versions of the fiscal 2019 Homeland Security appropriations bill. The reason the Senate is in session during August, Perdue said, is partly to tackle the DHS spending bill “soon” after his chamber completes work on the Defense spending bill.
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Trump went further. “They are building the wall as we sit here,” he said, citing a current budget of $3.2 billion, with hopes for another $5 billion. “But there’s a little obstacle,” he added: “The Democrats.”
Trump accused Democrats and critics of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau’s workforce of being “open border extremists who’re waging an unprecedented assault on American law enforcement.” He mentioned blocking access to ICE buildings and defacing public property. Democrats “want to abolish American borders,” Trump said, “but my administration won’t rest until you have the resources and tools to do your job.”
Speaking as press staff at ICE, Customs and Border Protection and the Homeland Security Department were putting out statistics showcasing the agencies’ recent arrests of criminals, Trump highlighted feats of individual agents in apprehending members of the MS-13 gang and discovering illegals in a trailer. He brought several of the federal employees he called “not appreciated” to the podium for a surprise opportunity to speak.
“We love you we support you, we will always have your back,” Trump said to a crowd that included several relatives of some of the 39 border agents who have been killed in action since 2003. He also said he had just sent a letter to 50 state and local authorities asking them to cooperate with ICE.
Vice President Mike Pence noted that the agency apprehends “10 known or suspected terrorists every day.” Trump, he added, has enacted the largest increase in border funds in nearly 10 years. “But we’ll never stop giving you the resources you deserve.”
Speakers, who also included Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona; Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall; and Cochise County, Ariz., Sherriff Mark Dannels, took a hard line against the “Abolish ICE” campaign, which manifested itself in legislation by Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., that would actually create a commission to restructure the tasks performed by the current agency.
“ICE and CBP have had a tough time during the last six weeks so I think it’s appropriate we highlight an asset we take for granted,” Perdue said. “Abolish it? That’s like saying I want to get rid of the Marines. I can’t relate to that.”
Sheriff Dannels, calling for a “unified message” and a “unified force,” said: “The First Amendment gives people the right to criticize our government, but they don’t have the right to harass our men and women doing this job.”
Gov. Ducey mocked the talk of abolishing ICE when the agents do so much to help catch drug traffickers. “The men and women who wear the badge deserve our support,” he said.
Attorney General Marshall, who praised ICE for giving state and local prosecutors a chance to hold criminal suspects and find the best venue for prosecution, said, “Those who want to abolish ICE don’t understand what they do or the danger they’re putting [themselves] in.”
Acting ICE Commissioner Ron Vitiello praised his agency for its ability to aid the FBI and others in catching terrorists through such “special skills” as investigating on the Dark Web. The current judicial system of handling suspected illegals while respecting due process “right now is not working for us,” he said.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan made a pitch to Americans to “join us” and have an “outstanding career.” But he suggested that the border construction project is being based on the comprehensive plan DHS submitted to Congress, one component of which is “an additional wall system across key areas of the border,” one that includes added technology and more hires as well.