Democratic congressional nominee Jesús “Chuy” García said Wednesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a “racist” and “repressive” agency that needs replacing.

The Cook County commissioner and former Chicago mayoral candidate made the remarks at a community meeting organized by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council at James Shields Middle School. He was asked if he supported abolishing ICE.

García shied away from calling for a complete abolition of the agency, saying that fellow Democrats “need to go beyond just a slogan.”

However, García, who faces only nominal opposition in his bid to replace retiring Rep. Luis Gutierrez in the 4th Congressional District, said he would work with fellow Democrats to drastically reshape how the United States carries out immigration enforcement.

“I look forward to working with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and people all over Chicago and Illinois in defining what we replace ICE with,” García said. “It is an agency that has become repressive and racist, bringing terror into our communities. We need to change what ICE has become. I want to work with you to advance proposals that replace such a repressive agency that causes so much suffering in our communities.”

Cook County commissioner Jesus "Chuy" García (left) speaks at a community event organized by Brighton Park Neighborhood Council at James Shields Middle School.

Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” García (left) speaks at a community event organized by Brighton Park Neighborhood Council at James Shields Middle School.

García joins a list of Democrats calling for the repeal and replacement of ICE, including 2020 presidential hopefuls and Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Those seeking to abolish the agency cite allegations of physical and sexual abuse of immigrants in ICE detention. Critics also point to the sharp rise in arrests and deportations of non-criminal unauthorized immigrants carried out by ICE under the Trump Administration as a reason to ax the agency in its current form. Last year, former acting ICE director Thomas Homan warned that all unauthorized immigrants “should look over [their] shoulder” and “need to be worried.”

However, many Democrats, including Illinois’ Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, fear that calls to abolish ICE won’t go over well with Americans, particularly in blue-collar Midwestern states.

A July Morning Consult/Politico poll gives credence to those fears: Only one in four voters polled believe the government should get rid of ICE. But a plurality of Democrats polled — 43 percent — said they supported abolishing the agency, while only a third said they wanted to keep the agency intact.

None of the 11 Illinois Congressional Democrats have called for the abolition of ICE, but most have been critical of the agency’s tactics and procedures.

A recent House vote brought on by Republicans in support of ICE underscored the divide among Illinois Democrats. Representatives Bobby Rush, Gutiérrez, Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky voted against the measure; the rest showed their displeasure by simply marking themselves “present.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), a prominent figure in the movement, said he welcomes García’s call to replace the agency.

“I am happy that my friend and ally ‘Chuy’ García has come out publicly and recognized the need to do away with ICE,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “We both want an immigration system that isn’t focused on criminalizing immigrants and locking them up in cages and separating them from their families. Instead, we want an immigration system that treats immigrants with dignity and welcomes them into the United States.”

García’s Republican opponent, Mark Lorch, did not respond to a request for comment.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.