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The Briefing: On MS-13 and the 'Abolish ICE' movement

WASHINGTON – We live in a country where 41 percent of Republicans worry about being attacked by MS-13, and where about the same share of Democrats want to disband the agency charged with policing undocumented immigrants such as those who belong to that vicious criminal gang.

Those are two of the main takeaways from two recent polls that show America to be deeply divided on immigration – in a way that could hurt Democratic candidates in this fall's election.

You might think the immigration issue would hurt President Trump. He barred immigrants from several Muslim countries. He slashed the number of refugees allowed into America. He even implemented, but later ended, the astonishingly cruel policy of separating immigrant families at the southern border.

All of this draws gasps from many Americans, but the polls show that many voters are likely gasping, too, about an idea some Democrats are pushing: the abolition of the federal agency that deports undocumented immigrants.

Let's start with how voters view MS-13, the Central American gang that's had about 10,000 members in the U.S. for years but that Trump has demonized as a supposed clear and present danger.

According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, 41 percent of Republicans – and 51 percent of Trump voters – worry that they or someone in their family will become a victim of violence from MS-13.

This is ridiculous. MS-13's attacks are almost never random. It's only the sixth-largest gang in the U.S. MS-13 doesn't even have a presence in most of the country, and it's made local headlines in Buffalo only once in the past five years, when a gang member got arrested in Lancaster in 2016 and charged with entering the country illegally.

Sadly, though, politics isn't about facts; it's about feelings. And the HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that amid Trump's tantrums about MS-13, a large plurality of Americans want stronger borders.

Some 47 percent of voters, and 44 percent of independents, want tougher immigration controls, the poll found. That's roughly twice the percentage of those who want weaker laws governing America's borders.

So what are some Democrats doing in response to this clear indication that a get-tough immigration policy is far more popular than a get-weak one?

They're embracing the idea of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency charged with enforcing the nation's immigration laws.

Alexandria Osacio-Cortez, the upstart democratic socialist who ousted Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens in a Democratic primary last month, launched the "Abolish ICE" movement into the mainstream. And in recent weeks, potential Democratic presidential candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York embraced this idea.

"I don't think ICE today is working as intended ... I believe that it has become a deportation force, and I think you should separate the criminal justice from the immigration issues," Gillibrand told CNN.

Some 43 percent of Democratic voters want to end ICE, too, according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll. 

But there are both practical and political reasons why many elected Democrats won't go that far.

On the practical side, ICE isn't even the agency that separated families at the border: that's Customs and Border Protection. ICE does deport undocumented immigrants – which raises the question: If that agency won't do it, who will? And who will handle another key ICE responsibility: homeland security investigations into terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking and the like? The Democratic bill to abolish ICE doesn't answer those questions, instead merely establishing a commission to propose answers.

On the political side, a majority of voters – 54 percent – want to keep the agency, and only a quarter overall want to abolish it. Nearly four out of every five Republicans back ICE, as do 54 percent of independents.

These are not the sort of numbers that translate into votes for anti-ICE Democrats outside liberal enclaves such as New York.

"With Democrats attacking ICE, the administration has been given an opening to paint its opponents as extreme, radical and a threat to national security," Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and CNN political analyst, wrote in a CNN op-ed in which he termed the notion of abolishing ICE "a massive political mistake."

Republicans think it's just that. Hoping to force Democrats to take a stand on the agency, last week the GOP rushed to the House floor and passed a symbolic resolution backing ICE. Democrats, including Buffalo's Rep. Brian Higgins, mostly refused to play the Republicans' game, voting "present" on the resolution.

Meanwhile, Trump watched with apparent glee as Democrats turned the the immigration debate away from his controversial policies and toward an equally controversial proposal of their own.

“The Democrats have a death wish, in more ways than one – they actually want to abolish ICE," he tweeted last week. "This should cost them heavily in the Midterms."

Happening today

President Trump speaks at a "Made in America Product Showcase" event at the White House ... The Senate votes on the nomination of Robert Wilkie to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs ... U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis holds a hearing in the federal case against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort ... Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meet with their Australian counterparts at Stanford University ... Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, speaks at a workshop on "Harnessing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to Advance Biomedical Research."

Good reads

The New York Times reports that newly minted American citizens have reason to fear their citizenship might be revoked ... The Washington Post tells us that Trump is causing trouble for some Republicans on the campaign trail ... Politico says Republicans are already trying to find dirt on the likely Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 ... Vox reports on Nancy Pelosi's last stand ... And Reason magazine takes a look at Facebook's efforts to ban Holocaust deniers and trolls.

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