Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) said she would consider getting rid of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
In an interview with The New Yorker released Wednesday, the congresswoman was asked about her previous calls to abolish ICE, which is a DHS agency that enforces federal immigration laws inside the country, including deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants.
Ocasio-Cortez criticized the “core structure of ICE… and frankly, the entire Department of Homeland Security,” saying their roles were “extrajudicial” and “lack effective oversight.” She noted that DHS was formed in 2002 and ICE in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Would you get rid of Homeland Security?” the interviewer asked.
“I think so. I think so,” Ocasio-Cortez responded, adding that the country needs to “undo a lot of the egregious mistakes” from the Bush administration. “I feel like it is a very qualified and supported position... in terms of being able to make the argument that we never should have created DHS.”
Ocasio-Cortez doubled down on her suggestion to get rid of DHS later on Wednesday, tweeting that it’s “really not that radical” and that discussing reorganizing the department “shouldn’t be out of the question.”
The congresswoman also told The New Yorker that DHS had been ignoring congressional requests for documents on migrant children who had been separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies, as well as on conditions in U.S. immigrant detention facilities.
“They have been completely noncompliant,” Ocasio-Cortez said of DHS. “They won’t give us a shred of paper that helps us find these kids.”
DHS told HuffPost on Thursday that it has been complying with the subpoena the House oversight committee issued in February.
Homeland Security, with over 200,000 employees, has a mission of “preventing terrorism; securing our borders; enforcing immigration laws; securing cyberspace; and ensuring disaster response and resilience.” It is unclear which, if any, functions Ocasio-Cortez would want to maintain or re-allocate to other agencies. HuffPost reached out to Ocasio-Cortez but did not immediately receive a response.
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on getting rid of DHS quickly caught the attention of right-wing media and conservative politicians, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who slammed the idea to reporters on Wednesday as “just absolute irresponsibility.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) committed to making weekly visits to the ICE detention facility in his district in Aurora to demand more oversight after health issues were reported there, including cases of mumps and chickenpox among detainees.
A report earlier this year from the inspector general for DHS found that ICE was not adequately policing contractors running detention centers and that serious problems, including health care deficiencies, were going unreported.
In her interview with The New Yorker, Ocasio-Cortez described the CBP-run detention facility she and other members of Congress visited in El Paso, Texas, last week as “horrible” and “inhumane.”
The congresswoman described concrete cells with women in sleeping bags on the floor, and one toilet at the back behind a concrete slab but without a door.
“This is where detainees are being kept. I wouldn’t even call it living. Because it was that inhumane,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“It was the physical manifestation of Trump’s rhetoric in calling migrants animals. Because that’s how these women were being treated,” she added, noting some women told her their hair was falling out and that they had sores in their mouth.
One of the women she spoke to, who were all from Cuba, had been there for 60 days. Two of them said they had been separated from their children.
On the day of her visit, Ocasio-Cortez said women were held in cells without water and at least one had said officers told her to drink out of the toilet.
“The cruelty is the point,” Ocasio-Cortez told The New Yorker, using a phrase coined by journalist Adam Serwer to refer to President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies.
Ocasio-Cortez and other members of Congress are scheduled to speak at a House hearing on Friday about the conditions they witnessed at U.S. immigration detention facilities.
This article has been updated with comment from DHS.