Trump White House scolds Cynthia Nixon for condemning ICE

ALBANY — New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon took a lashing from the Trump administration for advocating for the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The federal agency commonly known as ICE is involved in the controversial detention of children away from their immigrant parents.

On Monday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley castigated Nixon, a Democrat, in a statement that noted that the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks after hijacking four jetliners were foreign nationals who engaged in immigration fraud.

“It’s deeply disturbing that Cynthia Nixon has no clue of what ICE does to protect Americans and New Yorkers every day from dangerous criminals, terrorists, child smugglers and human traffickers,” Gidley said.

A major focus

Nixon, a veteran activist and television actress, is competing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.

She has made her advocacy for immigration rights a major focus of her campaign and decried the practice of young children being held in separate facilities from their parents after being detained by federal ICE agents.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is seeking re-election this year, has also called for the abolition of ICE, as has New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio and Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is seeking a House seat that covers parts of Queens and the Bronx.

Cuomo, now seeking a third term in Albany, has also been critical of ICE’s practices, alleging that its agents have been involved in “blatant constitutional violations.”

But Cuomo has stopped short of urging that ICE be dissolved.

Closed Democratic primary

Nixon fired back at President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker.

“While I ran to pick up my child & made sure loved ones were safe on 9/11, Donald Trump went on FOX to talk about how he now owned the tallest building in NYC,” she tweeted.

She also noted that “the lesson of 9/11 wasn’t that we need to tear families apart.”

The focus on federal immigration policy shows that the issue has the potential to influence voters in a state with a closed Democratic primary, said Harvey Schantz, a political science professor at the State University at Plattsburgh.

“Democrats are more open to immigration than independents and Republicans,” he said, adding that Hispanic voters have become an important constituency of the Democratic Party in the state.

Crucial bloc

While Cuomo has consistently led Nixon in the polls, his challenger has scored a string of endorsements from local officials and candidates in both New York City and the Hudson Valley region in recent days.

Long-time political strategist George Arzt said Nixon is playing to progressive voters, a crucial bloc in Democratic primaries, by emphasizing her support for abolishing ICE and for urging that the state allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses.

Arzt said the proposal to do away with ICE is “fracturing” the Democrats and the suggestion may end up turning off more moderate Democrats, many of whom strongly oppose the Trump administration’s practice of separating detained children from their immigrant parents.

“I don’t see this as a winning issue nationally,” said Arzt, suggesting that Nixon “appears to be floundering lately” as Cuomo basks in a wave of endorsements from labor unions.

Abolition position

Nixon has already notched the support of the Working Families Party.

Cuomo also faces challenges from Stephanie Miner, an independent and the former mayor of Syracuse, as well as Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party activist Larry Sharpe.

By refraining from joining the movement to have ICE abolished, Cuomo “is avoiding risking losing the general election,” said Tom Doherty, a veteran consultant who worked in the cabinet of former Gov. George Pataki, the last New York Republican to hold statewide office.

But Gillibrand, a potential White House candidate in 2020, has fully embraced the abolition position regardless of those risks.

In a June 29 television interview, the senator said of ICE: “I believe that it has become a deportation force, and I think you should separate the criminal justice from the immigration issues, and I think you should reimagine ICE under a new agency with a very different mission.”