Last week, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) scored points with Portland progressives by co-sponsoring a bill to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But like a dog that's caught a car, Blumenauer soon found himself in an unexpected and decidedly uncomfortable position—because Republicans challenged him and his fellow Democrats to actually vote on their proposal.
While it's politically popular in progressive strongholds like Portland to kick ICE, neither Blumenauer nor his allies expected they'd have to vote on abolishing the agency.
So when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters July 13 that a vote would be scheduled before the August recess, Democrats began to fret the bill could damage their candidates in swing districts.
The Democrats who first proposed the "Abolish ICE" legislation less than a week ago swiftly announced they would vote "no" on their own bill, and Blumenauer was left scrambling.
"He wants to abolish ICE and supports comprehensive immigration reform to restore a more humane approach," says spokeswoman Nicole L'Esperance. "To make this happen, we have to be strategic. And that may mean losing the battle to win the war."
Translation: Time for Blumenauer to dislodge his teeth from the car tire and retreat.
His allies who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, including Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), issued a joint statement July 13 vowing to vote against their own legislation. Without apparent irony, they labeled the Republicans' move to schedule a vote a "political stunt."
The GOP has already canceled that vote. They'd made their point.
At a time when a former reality television star known for hyperbole and outright lying occupies the White House, it's unsurprising that even the most sober lawmakers—put the starchy, bow-tied Blumenauer at the top of that list—are engaging in political theater. But congressional Democrats' quick retreat on their call to abolish ICE is a stark demonstration of the difficulty of genuine resistance to President Donald J. Trump, even on subjects such as immigration where Democrats are united.
Blumenauer's misfire also mirrors a common result for Portland politicians who have publicly opposed the unpopular federal immigration agency: They've vowed resistance while accomplishing little.
The latest bout of outrage began in June when U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) live-streamed his failed attempt to visit a Texas detention center holding immigrant children. On June 17, a protest camp arose to block the entrance and driveway of the ICE building in Portland, which sparked copycat protests at ICE facilities across the nation.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly have issued blistering statements against ICE. But other than promising that Portland police will not assist the federal agency in its standoff with protesters, Wheeler has done little. Eudaly acknowledged the city cannot legally revoke a conditional use permit that allows the feds to detain immigrants in Portland unless ICE breaks the rules.
"It's commendable that many local leaders have made strong statements against aggressive ICE enforcement," says Erin McKee, an attorney at the Oregon Justice Resource Center. "But talk without action won't lead to meaningful change. If our leaders are committed to the spirit of sanctuary, then we need to focus on practical measures that get us closer to the reality of sanctuary."
OJRC has suggested a number of steps local officials could take, including allowing immigrants to enter diversion programs for minor criminal charges without pleading guilty, and ending "broken windows" policing that cites people for low-level offenses.
Even when the feds do break the city's rules, local officials have sat idle. The Bureau of Development Services cited federal agents for erecting a fence that is 1 foot taller than allowed by city ordinance. But Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office has said officials will not act to correct the violation because he believes protesters are probably also breaking city code.
"People are happy to say the things that sound good," says Sara Rudolph, a spokeswoman for the Occupy ICE camp. "But that doesn't actually translate into policy. I wish local officials would think bigger about what accomplishable goals might be."