"We believe that we should protect families that need our help and that is not what ICE is doing today," said Kirsten Gillibrand.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is adding her voice to the abolish ICE movement.
"Well, I agree with it," Gillibrand said when Cuomo asked what Democrats will do about incoming progressives whose stance it is to eliminate the agency. "I don't think ICE today is working as intended."
When Cuomo pressed her on the issue of abolishing ICE altogether, Gillibrand said in no uncertain terms that she supports "getting rid of it" and creating something new in its place. "I believe that it has become a deportation force," Gillibrand continued. "And that's why I believe you should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works."
Gillibrand is the first sitting senator to join growing calls to eliminate the agency, which have largely been led by activists and leftist 2018 candidates up until recently.
The movement started gaining traction on the Hill on Monday, when Wisconsin Representative Marc Pocan introduced legislation to abolish ICE. Pocan said at least two other members of the House, Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva and Massachusetts Representative Mike Capuano, have said they would support the bill.
He can likely expect the backing from other fellow ICE abolitionists in the House, who so far include Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, Massachusetts Representative Jim McGoven and Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, who was arrested on Thursday along with some 575 people who gathered outside the Hart Senate Office Building to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies. (Gillibrand had also participated in the demonstration, coordinated by the Women's March, but wasn't arrested.)
The New York congresswoman's support for the movement to abolish ICE distinguishes her from her other peers in the Senate, notably Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Senator Kamala Harris, other rumored 2020 contenders who have fallen short of backing the outright termination of ICE.
When CNN's Jake Tapper asked Sanders directly if he supports the movement, Sanders skirted the question, telling Tapper: "What we need is Trump to sit down with members of Congress and work on a rational program which deals with this serious issue."
Harris drew ire for her own stance on the issue in March, when replied "well, certainly" to a question from MSNBC's Chris Hayed about whether ICE should exist. Harris has since come out with stronger statements on ICE, recently beginning to approximate an "abolish ICE" stance. "I think there's no question that we've got to critically reexamine ICE and its role and the way that it is being administered and the work it is doing," Harris said in a Sunday interview with MSNBC's Kasie Hunt. "And we need to probably think about starting from scratch."
At the moment, Gillibrand remains the senator with the strongest stance on the issue.
"I think you should separate out the criminal justice from the immigration issues," Gillibrand told Cuomo Thursday. "We believe that we should protect families that need our help and that is not what ICE is doing today."
These Democrats want to abolish ICE
More Democrats have joined the growing list of names who want to abolish US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more commonly known as ICE.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York in the primary last week, ran on a platform of abolishing the agency, and so far, more lawmakers have echoed her call.
Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said he would introduce legislation that would dismantle ICE and create a commission to provide recommendations to Congress on how the government "can implement a humane immigration enforcement system," according to a statement.
The issue comes after the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, which referred all people who cross the border illegally for criminal prosecution on top of immigration proceedings.
As a result of enforcing that policy, parents and children who cross illegally are separated because the parents are put into the criminal justice system.
But last month, Trump reversed course and signed an executive order to keep families together.
Customs and Border Protection and ICE serve different functions. CBP enforces immigration laws on the US borders and ICE enforces immigration laws throughout the country.
The White House tweeted at Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris in an attempt to clarify the role of ICE to the lawmakers, while also accusing them of supporting unlawful activities and the MS-13 gang.
".@SenWarren, why are you supporting criminals moving weapons, drugs, and victims across our nation's borders? You must not know what ICE really does. Here is a link to help you out," they tweeted at Warren, as well as a similar tweet to Harris, that included a link to an official government page about ICE's Border Enforcement Security Task Force.
The White House tweeted at Harris, writing, ".@SenKamalaHarris, why are you supporting the animals of MS-13? You must not know what ICE really does" with a link to a press release about ICE deporting a Salvadoran MS-13 affiliate, as well as an Irish national.
Here's a look at the lawmakers who have said they want to abolish the agency:
Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
"I don't think ICE today is working as intended," Gillibrand said Thursday night on CNN's "Cuomo PrimeTime." "I believe that it has become a deportation force, and I think you should separate the criminal justice from the immigration issues."
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Warren wrote, "The President's deeply immoral actions have made it obvious that we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom, starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our values," a line that mirrored her statements in a speech at a protest in Boston.
Mark Pocan of Wisconsin
"From conducting raids at garden centers, and meatpacking plants, to breaking up families at churches and schools, ICE is tearing apart families and ripping the moral fabric of our nation," he said in a statement.
Pramila Jayapal of Washington
"We need to set up a commission that looks at the alternatives to ICE and really starts to understand how do we have these functions in a way that is accountable, transparent and humane," Jayapal told The Hill.
Earl Blumenauer of Oregon
"We should be prioritizing the protection of families and our borders in a humane and thoughtful way. People should be treated with compassion and respect. ICE is simply not doing that," Blumenauer said in a statement. "Trump and his administration have made the agency so toxic that it's time to abolish ICE, and start over."
Jim McGovern of Massachusetts
"We need to start a fresh conversation. If there are elements that work, we can maintain and strengthen those aspects. Otherwise, we need to thoroughly reevaluate and re-think immigration enforcement," he said in a post to his website.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York
"While eliminating ICE would be an important step, it alone is not enough to halt Donald Trump's deportation machine," she said in a statement. "This Administration is attacking immigrants on a multitude of fronts and we must resist on all of them. That includes reuniting and releasing families separated at the border, ending family detention and passing protections for Dreamers and TPS recipients."
Raul Grijalva of Arizona
Mike Capuano of Massachusetts
Adriano Espaillat of New York
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
He told WNYC's Brian Lehrer, "ICE's time has come and gone."
Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Calling for changes to ICE
Kamala Harris of California
"I think there's no question that we've got to critically re-examine ICE and its role and the way that it is being administered and the work it is doing," she told MSNBC. "And we need to probably think about starting from scratch."