CARLSBAD, CALIF.— It's a typically mild, bright, and cloudless Fourth of July in this beachside swing Congressional district just a thirty-minute drive north of the San Diego border.
Relaxed customers amble into a grocery store, some with children and dogs in tow, to gather last-minute items for their patriotic festivities.
Most are not eager or willing to stop and talk about one of the most divisive political topics of the day—a new push by some Democrats to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal government agency known as ICE.
Those who do stop to chat say they disagree with the rhetoric coming from liberal protesters and left-wing Democratic lawmakers and candidates demonizing the federal agency charged with detaining and deporting illegal immigrants.
"What are they going to replace it with—nothing or another agency that has to perform the same function that they don't like?" asked Nicole Rodriguez, 45. "We cannot just have open borders. Then we don't really have a nation, and there are all kinds of crimes at the border [federal authority] has to handle—drugs, child-trafficking, gangs."
Rodriguez is married to Peter Rodriguez, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant woman who came to the country in the 1940s. He says she came to the U.S. legally from Chihuahua state and worked to quickly assimilate, eschewing Spanish for English so much so that he and other offspring didn't learn Spanish at all.
"I do regret that she did that: It would have really come in handy, but she wanted the best for her family and wanted to become a contributing part of the community as quickly as possible," said Peter Rodriguez, 47.
The call to abolish ICE or other federal immigration enforcement efforts, is "just noise to try to get attention," he said.
"We either have a nation with borders and laws or we don't. If not, just open the floodgates."
Trump's immigration crackdown and the far left's push for open borders will undoubtedly grab headlines in the race to replace outgoing representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) in this coastal swing district. Republican Diane Harkey, a former state legislator who serves on the state's tax board, is vying against Democrat Mike Levin, an environmental lawyer.
The district, which straddles Orange and northern San Diego counties, has a seven-point Republican registration advantage but went to Hillary Clinton by a margin of 7.5 points in the 2016 presidential election. It is also the southernmost competitive House seat in the state of California, the epicenter of the Trump resistance movement.
However, the immigration issue is a tricky one in this area and cuts several different ways politically. Orange County readily took up the anti-sanctuary state mantra and in April passed a measure declaration its opposition to the state law and supporting the Trump administration's lawsuit fighting it.
San Diego County held back at first then went forward with its own vote of opposition to the state's efforts while the Democrat-majority San Diego City Council voted 5-2 to oppose the Trump administration's lawsuit against the sanctuary law.
The campaign against ICE conflates a number of government agencies and their myriad roles in immigration enforcement. ICE, for example, was not separating immigrant families who were illegally entering the United States from Mexico, producing the heart-wrenching recordings of children begging for their parents.
Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency for the Border Patrol, had the difficult task of separating children from adults claiming to be their parents until a public firestorm forced President Trump to put a halt to the practice via executive order in June.
The call to abolish ICE previously was limited to extreme open-border advocates. In the last few weeks, more Democrats have joined the left-wing chorus of those who want to dismantle the agency.
The group now includes Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, and Kristen Gillibrand of New York—all potential contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020—as well as several liberal House members.
The White House and President Trump have seen the left-wing push as an opportunity to go on offense, and USA Today has editorialized that the "Abolish ICE" campaign plays right into his hands because "it's not a message the mainstream will buy."
The White House earlier this week used its official Twitter account to lash out at Harris and Warren, accusing Harris of "supporting the animals of MS-13."
".@SenKamalaHarris, why are you supporting the animals of MS-13? You must not know what ICE really does," the White House said in a tweet that included a link to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement release about the removal of a Salvadoran MS-13 affiliate.
Even those who recoil at some of Trump's immigration policies and cite the family-separation policy as a wrong-headed, avoidable series of tragedies, don't think abolishing ICE is the answer.
"It's just politics," said Clint Phillips, a longtime resident in his mid-60s. "Just because you have someone abusing his power, doesn't mean we need to get rid of it."
Phillips was referring to Trump and his decision to begin a zero-tolerance policy of prosecuting all immigrants who enter the country illegally regardless of whether they have brought children with them on their journey.
The change led to the family separations because Trump administration officials believed several court decisions prevented them from holding the families together.
Phillips, who identified himself as a centrist Republican, was appalled by the child-separation policy and also wants Congress to come up with a solution to allow DACA recipients, adult immigrants who came to country years ago as children, to remain here without the threat of deportation.
"They didn't look at the implications of the zero-tolerance policy," he said. "But that doesn't mean you abolish ICE. What's to say that whatever you replace it with won't be worse, more bureaucratic and inefficient?"
Others fully embraced Trump's restrictive immigration policies and his campaign promise to build a "big, beautiful wall" with Mexico.
"If you abolish ICE, then anybody who wants to come to the country, would just come in without any consequences," said John Anderson, who is in his mid-70s. "Even though I don't like a lot of Trump's rhetoric or his tweets, I think a lot of his policies are good."
"You have to have the border patrol," he said. "What we really need is to put up a wall about 20 feet the border. I agree with Trump—that should be the first step. People should be allowed to come to this country on a legal basis but not just flooding in and we don't know who they are or their intentions."