Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Smeared ICE Agents as Racists. Now, She Calls Them 'Critically Necessary.'

Dem Senate hopeful pivots on border enforcement amid campaign against Rick Scott

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
March 4, 2024

During her first congressional campaign, Florida Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell condemned Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for having a "definite racial bias." Now, as America grapples with a border crisis—and as Mucarsel-Powell mounts a difficult Senate bid—she's calling the agency "critically necessary."

In 2018, Mucarsel-Powell ran to become the first South American immigrant to serve in the U.S. House, placing immigration reform at the center of her campaign. During a June 2018 visit to an ICE detention center, for example, she suggested that illegal immigrants convicted of "minor offenses" should not face deportation—and portrayed ICE agents as racists.

"There's a lack of transparency and a definite racial bias that has to change," Mucarsel-Powell said after lamenting that ICE "seems to be arresting people left and right," according to the Miami New Times.

"We're facing a humanitarian crisis," she continued. "We're seeing photos of children being kept in cages."

Roughly six years later, Mucarsel-Powell is changing her tune on immigration enforcement as she runs to unseat Florida senator Rick Scott (R.). She slammed the Republican incumbent in a Tuesday op-ed, writing that Scott "turned his back" on the border crisis by voting against a bipartisan border deal.

That bill would have provided "critically necessary funding that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency needs to continue to operate," Mucarsel-Powell wrote in the op-ed for the Sun Sentinel. Without the funding, she lamented, ICE "is now preparing to release thousands of detainees and cut detention levels by the tens of thousands."

Mucarsel-Powell's about-face comes as the Democratic Party looks to combat the border crisis that has festered under President Joe Biden.

In fiscal year 2022, migrant border crossings topped 2.76 million, breaking the previous yearly high of 1.72 million, which came in 2021. That record could again be broken in fiscal year 2024—in December, Customs and Border Protection saw more than 302,000 migrant encounters at the southern border, the highest monthly total ever. Americans went on to identify immigration as the "most important problem facing this country" for the first time since 2019.

In addition to her 2018 comments, Mucarsel-Powell has a history of cozying up to activists who work to abolish ICE. During her first year in Congress, in 2019, the Democrat invited activist Thomas Kennedy to speak at an immigration town hall she held at Florida International University. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Kennedy in 2018 was arrested for his role in an "Abolish ICE: Florida" protest outside an immigration facility in Miami.

Mucarsel-Powell declined to comment on her past assessment that ICE agents carry a "definite racial bias." Instead, her campaign spokeswoman, Lauren Chou, referred the Washington Free Beacon to a statement that called Scott "a con artist and a fraud" who "has never been interested in securing the border or protecting our national security."

Mucarsel-Powell served just one term in Congress before losing her seat in 2020 to Republican Carlos Giménez. While she is expected to cruise to the Democratic nomination in the race against Scott, she is also likely to experience fundraising woes as national Democrats prioritize other states over Florida. John Morgan, a top Democratic donor in the state, told the Daily Beast that his "involvement in the Florida Senate race will be 'zero.'"

"I might write a check, but I don’t see myself raising big money," Morgan said.