ST. PAUL, Minn. ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), while campaigning at the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday, suggested he would not abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he would get rid of ICE raids but declined to say that he would scrap the agency altogether during a live-taping of an interview with MPR News, which hundreds of fairgoers had gathered to watch.
Asked if he agreed with a woman in the crowd who shouted “abolish ICE” during the audience Q&A portion of the interview, Sanders told MPR News host Tom Crann that he would abolish “the current disastrous immigration system.”
“ICE is one small part of that system,” Sanders said. “We have to develop a system. But I will say this: We will abolish the ICE raids, which are terrorizing communities all over this country.”
Crann continued to press the Vermont senator, asking if he sees “a valid purpose for an agency in the federal government like ICE.”
“The first question you asked, do I believe in open borders? No, I do not,” Sanders responded. “So you need to have protection of our borders and you need people to do that.”
On whether he supports abolishing ICE: Sanders calls for “abolishing the current disastrous system and ICE raids.”— Hayley Miller (@hayleymiller01) August 24, 2019
Pressed to answer directly, he notes that he’s not for open borders. “We would need to have protection of our borders and you need people to do that.” pic.twitter.com/z8dHJyWzXw
The question of whether to abolish ICE has become somewhat of a litmus test among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Sanders’ comments Saturday mark his strongest statement against shutting down the agency to date.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam are the only two 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls who have called for ICE to be abolished.
Sanders has previously called for the restructuring of the immigration enforcement agency and voted against establishing ICE and the Department of Homeland Security when they were proposed over 15 years ago.
“ICE has become a deportation and detention machine,” Sanders said in July 2018. “And I would fundamentally restructure the agency, as well as all the agencies that currently enforce our immigration laws, to create a humane and rational immigration system with independent oversight.”
Watch Sanders’s full interview with MPR News below. His comments about ICE begin around the 30-minute mark.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.