MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This focus on ICE has started a debate among Democrats over whether the agency should continue to exist. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told ABC News that the problem is with Trump's policies, not with the existence of ICE.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS")
AMY KLOBUCHAR: The people that are making these policies are making horrendous decisions like separating kids from their parents. We are always going to need immigration enforcement. We know that.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Then there are some in the party's more progressive camp who want to get rid of ICE altogether. Adriano Espaillat is a freshman Democratic congressman representing New York. He was once undocumented himself. And he's introducing legislation to abolish ICE. Congressman, welcome to the program.
ADRIANO ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much.
SHAPIRO: Your bill would abolish ICE, and then it would create a commission to give Congress recommendations on how to implement a humane immigration enforcement system. Do you think it's premature to get rid of this agency before you know what you would replace it with?
ESPAILLAT: I don't think so. I think that the agency itself is spending too much time going after families rather than going after drug dealers or terrorists. I think the organization needs to be looked at, restructured and have the aspect of it that deals with immigration be more humane.
SHAPIRO: Today our colleagues on Morning Edition spoke with Sarah Saldana, who was director of ICE during the Obama administration. And I'd like to play you part of what she said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SARAH SALDANA: What we need to attack is comprehensive immigration reform, the statutes. What to do with the 11 to 12 million people who are already here? And move forward in a rational way as opposed to this inflammatory language that is akin to saying that the building of a wall is going to solve our border security problems.
SHAPIRO: That inflammatory language she's referring to is abolish ICE. How would you respond to her?
ESPAILLAT: Well, look; I think that we do need to have a serious discussion about comprehensive immigration reform. But that includes of course things like protecting the families and reuniting the children with their families. It means bringing in 800,000 DREAMers and also bringing back TPS and diversity visa. The comprehensive immigration reform debate is a very broad debate, and I think we should first begin by tackling the easy ones.
SHAPIRO: But it really sounds like your objection is to the priorities that ICE is pursuing, priorities established by the Trump administration. Is your objection really with the existence of the agency, or is it with the existence of the administration that was voted into power?
ESPAILLAT: Well, the agency has gone above I think what they need to do. They're over the top in many ways. You know, splitting an 8-month, 9-month baby from her mother is un-American. It's egregious. And so that agency is involved in that type of behavior. Putting them in a tent city or perhaps even in a military camp is similar to what we did to the Japanese after World War II. So, yes, this agency should be dismantled. A new agency needs to be constructed that would deal with immigration issues. And then the other issues, the real sort of, like, top immigration issues like human trafficking, drug trafficking and the like - that's what they should be concentrating their time on.
SHAPIRO: Finally, I want to ask you about the politics of this debate. President Trump tweeted yesterday that Democrats want to get rid of ICE, who do a fantastic job, and want open borders. Crime would be rampant and uncontrollable, he said. Some Republicans are glad the conversation is shifting from family separation to the debate over whether to abolish ICE. Why do you think politically this is a good idea?
ESPAILLAT: You saw how the White House had to backpedal on the family splitting debate. They quickly backpedaled when they saw that most of America was against that. Now, when we heard those cries of those babies in the middle of the night asking for their mother or father, the entire nation, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, felt offended if not assaulted. Matter how much the Trump administration wants to radicalize the debate, I think the American people have a heart. And I want to thank them for being supportive of these mothers and fathers who just really want to be together with their children.
SHAPIRO: Isn't there a need for some branch of the government to address immigration enforcement, whether you call that ICE or something else?
ESPAILLAT: I don't know. Let's see what other countries are doing because immigration is not a U.S.-only debate. Let's take a look at best practices of around the world. And let's try to develop a new agency that has a heart and is able to enforce the law.
SHAPIRO: Congressman Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat from New York, thank you for joining us today.
ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much. Thank you kindly.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.