In the face of attack ads from U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, Sharice Davids’ campaign denied this week that she supports abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but during a July podcast interview the Kansas Democrat said she supported defunding the agency.
During the July 21 episode of the Millennial Politics Podcast, host Jordan Valerie Allen asked Davids specifically whether she supported abolishing ICE, the agency that enforces immigration laws and falls within the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.
“You asked me about defunding, which I think is probably essentially the same thing. But yeah,” Davids said on the podcast, which promotes progressive candidates.
The call to abolish ICE from a segment of progressive activists gained national attention earlier this year in the wake of the controversy surrounding the separation of families at the southern border.
“One of the reasons that Kevin Yoder is so problematic is that he’s the chairperson of the Homeland Security committee in the House and he has done the opposite of what we’re talking about here. He has the power to defund these practices and defund ICE and he instead decided to write a letter saying, ‘I don’t think we should separate families,’ ” Davids said on the podcast.
Yoder, the incumbent Republican from Overland Park, chairs the subcommittee that oversees the Homeland Security budget. After President Donald Trump’s administration reversed course on family separations, Yoder’s office claimed that his advocacy on the issue played a role.
ICE was established in 2003 through legislation passed after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. During her appearance on the podcast, Davids called for immigration enforcement to be disentangled from the Homeland Security apparatus.
“There’s a fundamental problem right there. We have to get away from thinking of everyone who is coming to the United States as a threat,” Davids said.
“I think that we need to have something that is reworked, that deals with immigration, that is not part of essentially thinking of it in terms of policing,” she added. “That starts us in the wrong framework. We’re already thinking about threats versus us trying to figure out ways to make sure we’re thriving as a country.”
After Davids prevailed in a six-way Democratic primary earlier this month, Yoder’s campaign launched an attack ad this week attacking her as too radical for Kansas’ 3rd congressional district on the basis that she supports abolishing ICE.
Her campaign strongly pushed back on the attack ad.
“Sharice does not support abolishing ICE. She does, though, think ripping kids away from their parents is wrong,” Davids spokeswoman Allison Teixeira Sulier said in a statement Tuesday.
Davids restated this talking point Thursday after being asked to square the campaign’s statement with her comments on the podcast in support of defunding the agency.
“Let me be clear, I do not support abolishing ICE. I do support comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system. What I also believe — and what I was addressing — is that the practice of ripping families apart at the border is inconsistent with our core values as Americans and an ineffective deterrent to illegal immigration,” Davids said in a statement.
Davids accused Yoder of trying to use “immigration as an issue to divide the country for his own political gain.”
Yoder’s campaign spokesman C.J. Grover excoriated Davids over her comments on the podcast and said she can’t run from her past statements.
“Anyone who listens to this podcast can hear it it plainly — her position is to get rid of immigration enforcement entirely. She spends ample time explaining why we need remove all enforcement operations from under DHS after she is asked by the host how she plans to dismantle America’s white supremacist immigration system,” Grover said in a statement. “This wasn’t a slip of the tongue, it’s her radical beliefs on full display.”
Davids would make history as the first Native American woman in Congress if elected in the fall — a distinction she could potentially share with New Mexico candidate Deb Haaland if both women win. During the July interview, Davids to the federal government’s past treatment of Native Americans in explaining her rationale for separating immigration policy from Homeland Security.
She noted that before the U.S. Department of Interior absorbed the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the mid-1800s, the federal government’s relations with Native American tribes was handled through the Department of War.
“When you talk about the historical context of ICE being rooted in treating a group of people as if there’s a threat or that they’re ‘the enemy’ or something to that effect, that’s exactly how the federal government approached Native Americans until not that long ago in the grand scheme of things,” said Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation who spent part of her career working on a Native American reservation in South Dakota before returning to Kansas.
“I just feel like I’m constantly seeing parallels between what is happening right now and what has happened through the course of our federal government’s history.”