Amid a wave of backlash against the agency, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday visited the headquarters of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, echoing President Donald Trump's praise and proclaiming the administration's full support of the agency.
ICE was established in 2003, under the then-new U.S. Department of Homeland Security. During the administration of President Barack Obama, ICE — particularly its Enforcement and Removal Operations department, which is charged with detaining and deporting illegal immigrants inside the U.S. — was primarily concerned with the removal of illegal immigrants, who already had committed "serious crimes," according to The New York Times.
Yet President Trump, an immigration hardliner, has expanded the agency's scope, authorizing them to go after anyone who is in the country without the proper documentation — therefore illegally — regardless of criminal record.
Several leading Democrats, including U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have in recent weeks called for the abolition of ICE. Both Warren and Gillibrand are thought of as potential candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2020 election.
"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," Warren wrote in a Facebook post Saturday.
Gillibrand called the agency a "deportation force."
On Friday, Pence decried these claims, repeatedly calling the agency's employees "heroes."
Pence assured the agency's employees that the Trump administration "would never abolish ICE," citing the organization's efforts in curbing gang crime within the country, particularly from MS-13.