Where the DFL’s three major candidates for governor stand on abolishing ICE

DFL candidates find themselves on relatively firm political ground when it comes to immigration in general, even as they finesse their response to attempts to push them further left on #AbolishICE.

It’s a fundamental challenge for statewide DFL candidates in 2018: the need to be progressive enough to do well in urban areas — especially in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul — while showing some moderate bona fides to voters in Greater Minnesota.

That calculation is particularly complex for the three leading DFL candidates for governor, who face a highly contested primary in which progressive voters will be even more of a factor. And nothing illustrates the challenge more than one aspect of the immigration debate.

While there is little debate among DFLers over Minnesota being a sanctuary state or objecting to the zero-tolerance border policy by the Trump administration or opposing the separation of families by border enforcement, such unanimity falters on the issue that is quickly gaining attention among progressive activists: abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

As such, Republicans have tried to take advantage of the issue, which has quickly become identified by the hashtag #AbolishICE. Tim Pawlenty’s campaign recently tweeted pictures of Tim Walz and Erin Murphy with a message that they “joined protestors this past weekend calling to #AbolishICE and demanding open borders,” referring to the “Keep Families Together” rallies on June 30. “It’s just wrong.” President Trump has also used Twitter to condemn what he termed the “radical left” for calling for ICE’s abolishment.

But attending a rally doesn’t connote endorsement of everything that was said there. And forecasting how immigration will play in elections may not be as obvious as some Republicans would like to believe. A Pew Research Center poll — taken before the family separation issue dominated headlines — found that 73 percent favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children.

The same poll found that 56 percent oppose expanding border walls. In addition, the poll reported that 38 percent think legal immigration should be kept at its current levels while 32 percent say it should be increased. And 69 percent say they are “very” or “somewhat” sympathetic to unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.

So DFL candidates find themselves on relatively firm political ground when it comes to immigration in general, even as they finesse their response to attempts to push them further left on #AbolishICE.

Walz: Reform, not abolish

Tim Walz, who said he’s been working on immigration reform since joining the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, said he doesn’t think the issue requires “trying to walk a fine line.”

“We need border security,” he said in an interview last week. “It needs to be smart and it needs to be humane. It needs to be focused on our principles. Since I first started running in 2005, I’ve made it very clear: Every sovereign nation has the right and responsibility to control their borders. That’s something that we need to do.”

Rep. Tim Walz and state Rep. Peggy Flanagan
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Rep. Tim Walz: “We need border security. It needs to be smart and it needs to be humane.”

Walz said he does not favor abolishing ICE. “Reform certainly,” he said. “More importantly, give them clear direction of what the mission is. Let them carry out the mission of immigration control and enforcement, but on the front end where it’s not seen as a punitive force that comes in.”

He said he supports legal immigration, calling it both within the American tradition and an economic imperative. “The diversity it’s brought to this nation has always been reinvigorated by these communities, it’s always been reinvigorated by these movements,” he said at a press conference earlier in June. “We can get out of this trap where it’s one or the other. Let’s fix our legal immigration system. Let’s recognize that people came here and their crime was making sure their children had a better future. What parent would not try to do that? Let’s make sure we keep to that moral clarity.”

Swanson: If the Constitution has been violated, I’ll step in

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson also said abolishing ICE is “nothing that I’ve called for in this campaign or as attorney general.”

“Ultimately, we need comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level and that’s something Congress has to do, and I hope Congress will do that on a bipartisan basis,” she said.

In the meantime, she said she will continue to make judgments on individual issues and decide whether state action is needed. “If I think the laws or the Constitution has been violated, I step in to enforce it,” Swanson said.

Attorney General Lori Swanson
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Attorney General Lori Swanson: “We need comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level and that’s something Congress has to do.”

She cited her joining constitutional challenges to the Trump administration’s travel bans, family separation policy, and the proposed citizenship question on the U.S. Census. “How I looked at that issue is the last 70 years of Census Bureau directors … said we ought not to be asking that question because it’s going to impede the accurate count on the Census,” she said. “And if we don’t have an accurate count, then we’re not going to be able to distribute the aid and the local government aid.”

“More recently, I filed a lawsuit on the issue of the children because I think it is wrong to separate children from their parents and not to reunite them promptly,” she said. “So I’m in court right now with a lawsuit there.”

Murphy: Those calling for abolishment ‘raising legitimate issues’

State Rep. Erin Murphy is the DFL’s endorsed candidate in the primary and the one that comes closest to calling for the elimination of ICE. “I don’t like what ICE is doing,” Murphy said. “They were developed out of 9/11 and they served a purpose. I have looked at the way we settle refugees in this state of Minnesota and in the United States. There is a rigorous process. And as ICE has grown more aggressive, I have had more questions about the role that they are playing in the lives of people and I am concerned about that.”

Or those calling for ICE to be abolished: “They are raising legitimate issues,” she said.

Murphy criticised Republicans in the campaign “who are using immigration as a tool of division” and said she hears a different message when she travels the state. “I see people coming to Minnesota and to this country, sometimes coming from countries that are war torn; they are coming from situations in which they are in harm’s way,” she said. “I believe that America and Minnesota is a space that welcomes people when they are coming from trouble. I think that is a key value in the state of Minnesota.”

State Rep. Erin Murphy
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
State Rep. Erin Murphy: “As ICE has grown more aggressive, I have had more questions about the role that they are playing in the lives of people and I am concerned about that.”

“My job, if I’m elected, is to make sure I’m looking out for everybody. And if Congress isn’t going to fix immigration, and they have essentially abandoned that, then we’re going to have to make sure in Minnesota that we can do what we can do to protect Minnesotans as they live their lives here.”

She opposes use of state and local police to help ICE and opposes creation of additional immigration detention facilities within the state.

And like Walz, she said the state’s future depends on immigration. “When I look ahead 10 years, we need to be a place that is welcoming people from other states and other nations to participate in our economy because we’re already facing workforce shortage in key industries: in health care, in education, in manufacturing,” she said. “And those are going to be exacerbated by a baby boom generation that is leaving the workforce.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by richard owens on 07/05/2018 - 10:32 am.

    It should be obvious to all.

    ICE has been made into a national police force run by the chief executive.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  2. Submitted by David LaPorte on 07/05/2018 - 11:47 am.

    ICE has two missions, but one is being forgotten

    ICE is responsible for enforcing the laws controlling immigration and those outlawing the international smuggling of guns and drugs. Nineteen (19) ICE Special Agents in Charge signed a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, recommending that the agency be reorganized into two new agencies, one for each mission. Their concern is that the mission of ICE was shifted by President Trump to focus on immigration at the expense of drug and gun smuggling.

    It’s important to realize that the call for reforming ICE started with their own Special Agents in Charge. They’re in the best position to know if ICE if fulfilling its mission. Their recommendations make a lot of sense to me because drugs and illegal guns, which have been deemphasized, are a serious threat to the American people. We shouldn’t be shifting resources away from controlling these smuggling operations. Keeping those budgets separate by forming two different agencies will improve transparency and ensure that these two missions are given the appropriate balance.

    ICE has also been too secretive, which prevents accountability. Part of the reorganization should be improved oversight.

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/05/2018 - 04:15 pm.

    Who cares

    Why are you asking candidates for Minnesota governor about a federal agency?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/06/2018 - 10:52 am.

    Why do we NEED ICE?

    The problem with responses to this question based on the assumption that we “need” ICE is that they’re inherently anti-immigrant. The only function of ICE is to round up and deport undocumented immigrants who are by-and-large and asset to our economy and communities. These people were NEVER a terror threat of any kind, so ICE’s pretense of being a security blanket of some kind has always been facile.

    ICE can only exist in a nation that denies entry and immigration on a massive scale. Any country that allows significant immigration simply does not “need” an army of 20,000 agents to round up and deport immigrants. When you look at what ICE is and what it does, you simply can’t claim that we NEED it while at the same time claiming to support immigration. Logic dictates that abolishing ICE would part of an over-all immigration reform, trying “reform” ICE while leaving the current regime in tact would be an incoherent response.

    While it’s true that this is a Federal policy issue, the candidates responses can still be enlightening.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 07/11/2018 - 09:37 am.

      Enforcement of immigration and customs laws

      Since there are immigration and customs laws to enforce it makes sense that there will be an agency responsible for enforcing those laws. Without enforcement the law does not matter. How the law is enforced is a federal matter.

      I agree with the other commenter. This is not a state issue. This is like asking a city council candidate what their position is on abortion law. Irrelevant and intentionally divisive. I hope the governor candidates sidestep this question which is only asked so people can fill my mailbox with scary propaganda postcards.

  5. Submitted by Curtis Loewe on 07/08/2018 - 08:49 am.

    Abolish ICE ?

    WIth regard to the three DFL candidates for Governor I felt Tim Walz had the most rational reasonable and well thought out answer. Lets pass immigration reform and give ICE clear direction. ICE should not be a tool to divide our great country.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2018 - 10:13 am.

    I think….

    Walz is punting, abolishing ICE is part of the reform we need, it’s not a by-product of some other reform. Someone needs to remind Swanson that she’s NOT running for AG again, “Constitutionality” isn’t the ONLY concern of a Governor. I think Murphy wins this round. The abuses and tactics of ICE is the most obvious, visible, and compelling policy that gets people into a conversation about immigration reform.

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