WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence visited the headquarters of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, D.C., on Friday, where he delivered a speech that attacked the push to abolish the agency. Criticism of ICE has mounted in the wake of the Trump administration’s policy that separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents after illegal border crossings. In his remarks, Pence said progressives calling for the end of ICE are being “outrageous” and “irresponsible.”
“So today, I want to make it clear to all of you and all of those looking on, under President Donald Trump we will never abolish ICE,” Pence said, adding, “As the president said, we will never fail to applaud, and expand, and empower this agency with the resources that you deserve.”
Pence was introduced by ICE’s acting Director Ronald Vitiello and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. Vitiello, who took the stage first, referenced protests that were staged against Nielsen at her home and as she ate in a Mexican restaurant in Downtown Washington last month.
“In the last few months, we’ve seen the good work that we do come under attack. Throughout this challenging time, we’ve heard Secretary Nielsen repeatedly supporting our efforts and pledging the department’s commitment to ICE’s people,” Vitiello said.
When he took the stage, Pence said he brought “greetings” from Trump, who he described as a “great champion of law and order” and “a leader who stands without apology with the men and women of ICE and law enforcement at every level.”
“The president sent me here today with a very simple message. … I stand before you today at a time when some people are actually calling for the abolition of ICE in this White House. Let me be clear: We are with you 100 percent,” Pence said.
The vice president went on to praise the staff of ICE as “patriots.”
Pence cited a series of statistics on the agency’s work from last year including that ICE made “made 4,818 gang arrests,” seized “nearly a million pounds of narcotics,” and made 33,000 arrests of “individuals who came into this country illegally and then pursued crime against our people.”
“Most touchingly to me as a father, ICE agents rescued 518 human trafficking victims and 904 children subject to child exploitation,” said Pence.
Pence then began to discuss the recent criticism of ICE.
“The hashtag ‘#AbolishICE’ has now taken its place on the internet. Protesters chant ‘No Ban, No Wall, No Borders at All’ at protests around the country. ICE officers and leadership have had their personal information exposed on social media and threats to their families have followed this,” he continued.
The vice president offered stern words for those who might threaten ICE staff.
“Now let me be very clear on this point: The American people have every right to engage in peaceful protest, but these threats against ICE officers and their families must stop and they must stop now,” said Pence.
Pence also addressed the criticism of ICE that has come from politicians: “The sad fact is though, it isn’t just the expression of the radical left that has been speaking out against ICE lately. The truth is that opposition [to] ICE has moved to the center of the Democratic Party itself,” Pence said. “Just when you thought the Democrats couldn’t move farther to the left, leading members of the Democratic Party, including candidates for higher office, are actually openly advocating the abolition of ICE, an agency that protects the American people and our communities every single day.”
As examples, Pence cited Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and New York State gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon. He said Nixon “appallingly” called ICE a “terrorist organization.”
Pence went on to list the consequences he said would come if ICE was abolished. He said it would mean “more illegal immigration,” “more violent crime, “more vicious gangs like MS-13, “more drugs in our schools and on our streets,” and “more human trafficking.” Pence also said getting rid of ICE would “give terrorists a new chance to exploit immigration loopholes.”
“Our word to all the courageous men and women of ICE is: Help is on the way,” said Pence.
ICE’s critics downplay the effects of abolishing the agency by pointing out that it was created relatively recently — in 2003, as part of the U.S. government’s reorganization after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pence told the audience, which was largely composed of ICE staff and invited guests, that employees of the agency have the administration’s “support” and “prayers.”
“For my part, I can’t help but reflect on the words of the psalmist in my hope that you would be confident that His faithfulness will be your shield,” said Pence.
Pence did not discuss child separations at any point during his speech. On June 20, President Trump signed an executive order that called for the Department of Homeland Security to “maintain custody of alien families” to the “extent permitted by law” when resources are available. However, since the order was signed, the government appears to have taken in more children that had been separated from their parents.
On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said under 3,000 children who were taken from their parents are in U.S. government custody. That would seem to be an increase from June 25, when 2,407 separated immigrant children were being held. Officials from the White House, HHS and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, have not responded to repeated questions from Yahoo News about whether immigrant children are still being separated from their parents at the border.
After Pence left the stage, he walked into the crowd to shake hands. Yahoo News asked the vice president if he believes “child separations is a Christian thing to do.” Pence continued posing for pictures and did not respond amid audible groans from some members of the crowd. Aides then moved us away from Pence and towards the back of the room, where a man approached from the audience.
“Now we distrust you even more than we did before,” the man said, adding, “Fake news.”
(Cover thumbnail photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)
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