Reality Check: Barnes does not want to abolish ICE, despite ad claims

The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate says he wants wholesale immigration change but stops short of saying he wants to abolish the agency

MADISON, Wis. — While some Democrats are vehemently in the “abolish ICE” camp, Mandela Barnes is not among them, despite an ad from the Ron Johnson campaign claiming he is.

The claim stems from a photo posted in 2018 to a Democratic Socialist forum on Reddit — in the photo, Barnes is holding a T-shirt with the words “abolish ICE” written on it.

Barnes’ views need a bit of clarification: Barnes does say he supports comprehensive reform to border control and immigration policies, but he does not advocate abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

This separates him from other Democrats, like Wisconsin’s Mark Pocan, who do support abolishing ICE.

The ad also ties Barnes to “the squad” — a group of the most liberal members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez — saying that they want to defund the police.

For his part, Barnes says he wants to give the police more tools to do their job, like more training and using social workers to respond to some calls, for example.

The ad paints this amid the backdrop of rising crime in Wisconsin, and that is true for certain crimes. Since 2019, murders and car thefts have both risen dramatically, according to data from the state Department of Justice. Other crimes like burglaries, however, have slightly decreased over that time.

The purpose of the ad: a recent Marquette Law School poll shows that crime is among the top issues resonating with Republicans heading into November, so the ad could be in an effort to drive Republican turnout.

How we got here: The sources used in this Reality Check

The ad was paid for by both Ron Johnson’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign and can be viewed on Johnson’s YouTube page here.

The Reddit post with the Barnes photo is available here.

Barnes has given multiple interviews on his immigration stance. In February 2022, he confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he does not support abolishing ICE. On his campaign website, under a video titled “Immigration,” Barnes says he backs “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Mark Pocan’s calls to abolish ICE can be found in this 2018 news release.

Barnes’ stance on giving police more tools can be found on his website, under a video titled “Public Safety.”

The state Department of Justice aggregates its crime data here. The charts used in the story can be found by navigating to the “over time” tab, and sorting by violent crimes and property crimes.

The Marquette poll that shows crime resonating with Republican voters can be found here.

If you have a political ad you would like us to fact-check as part of our Reality Check series, send an e-mail to tips@channel3000.com or wkenneally@wisctv.com.