A Beginner's Guide to Abolishing ICE

ICE is relatively new; only barely older than the movement to get rid of it.
Yellow background layered with chain link fence + images of the covers of Abolish ICE, Migrating to Prison, Immigration Nation (the podcast), Immigration Nation the Netflix series, and Border & Rule
Collage by Cathryn Virginia | Images from Getty, OR Books, The New Press, Immigration Nation podcast, Netflix, and Haymarket Books
Because We Can is an ongoing series about making politics a practice, even when there isn’t a national election looming.

President Joe Biden undid a lot of Trump policies on his first few days in office. One massive shift—touted as a big win for immigrant rights—was a 100-day halt in deportations

Except that according to reports, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has refused to cooperate. It’s “deportation as usual.”  The ACLU has called a recent memo from the Biden administration to ICE “a disappointing step backwards.”


ICE was only created by law under the second Bush administration; it started operating in 2003 as part of the new Department of Homeland Security. But in a short time, it’s come to wield a vast amount of law enforcement power while commandeering a huge budget. “ICE has not always existed, and we have normalized that in a way,” Cynthia Garcia, National Campaigns Manager for Community Protection at the immigrant youth-led network United We Dream, told VICE. The organization expanded under Obama and enforced harsher policies under Trump, including the separation of families at the border—all of which has fueled the #AbolishICE hashtag and movement.

Since ICE is relatively new, so is the movement to abolish it; the first #AbolishICE tweet happened in 2017. And it can be tricky to figure out where and how to learn more: “So much of the stuff we have tends to be really in the weeds,” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, told VICE. Often, it’s written by academics and immigration lawyers, for academics and immigration lawyers. So we talked to those experts—attorneys, authors, activists, and organizers from across the country—to find out where someone new to the idea of abolishing ICE can learn more about why it matters. From engaging podcasts to thoughtful nonfiction books to good Twitter follows, here are a few resources to get you started. 



Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding U.S. Immigration for the Twenty-First Century by A. Naomi Paik
Shah recommends this book by A. Naomi Paik, who’s also written about abolishing ICE for outlets including the Conversation. In less than 200 pages, Paik succinctly outlines the government’s stance on immigration and explains how two centuries of U.S. culture and policy led us here. 

Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking up Immigrants by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández 
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández has run the criminal and immigration law website since 2009. In his book, he uses the history of U.S. immigration law and enforcement to explain how we’ve gotten to a place where nearly 400,000 people a year spend time locked up waiting for their immigration proceedings..

Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism by Harsha Walia
Harsha Walia’s work is a must-read for anyone interested in issues of immigration (and her Twitter account is a must-follow). The activist, author, and educator’s brand-new book, Border & Rule, explores how borders around the globe divide the working class, empower the ruling class, and criminalize refugees, along with the ways in which state violence, capitalism, and right-wing nationalism are all connected. 


Abolish ICE: A Passionate Plea for a more Humane Immigration System by Natascha Elena Uhlmann 
The title says it all, right? In this slim and concise number, activist and author Natascha Elena Uhlmann outlines some of the many examples of abuse that have happened under ICE, and presents a convincing argument for abolition. (Uhlmann is also the editor of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador's book A New Hope for Mexico: Saying No to Corruption, Violence, and Trump's Wall.)

Podcasts & documentaries

Immigration Nation (the podcast)

This podcast is built around busting misconceptions around immigration—and oh man, does that ever apply to ICE. (Think the Obama administration had a great track record on immigration? It didn’t!) Each of its 20 voicey episodes tackles topics ranging from sanctuary cities to what it’s like to be a child facing deportation.

For an explainer on ICE specifically, you want Episode 3—“Abolish ICE?”—a 40-minute conversation between immigration and civil rights lawyer Andrew Free and host Kara Lynum, which deftly explains how ICE has evolved and why the abolish ICE movement is gaining momentum. By the time you finish, you’ll feel so angry about the amount of money being funneled into the agency and the enormous amount of federal-level prosecutions it brings in criminal courts. 


Immigration Nation (the series)
ICE is notoriously unwelcoming to the media, but for two and a half years, filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz had unprecedented access to its agents and facilities—including a children’s detention center in El Paso. Their resulting six-episode Netflix docuseries, Immigration Nation, was challenged by ICE and the Trump administration; the New York Times reported they hoped to delay its release until after November’s election. (Of the controversy, Clusiau told New Yorker immigration reporter Jonathan Blitzer: “It was holding a mirror up to them, and I think they didn’t like what they saw.”) For more, you can hear the filmmakers’ full conversation with Blitzer here

This American Life Episode 652: “ICE Capades”
In 2018, This American Life host Ira Glass had a conversation with congressman Mark Pocan, who introduced a bill that would dismantle ICE. For the entirety of their half-hour conversation, Glass can’t get Pocan to say the words “abolish ICE.” The episode really gets at the politics of ICE abolition, along with how Republicans have turned “abolish ICE” into the “build the wall” of the left—a bananas, wacky, and impossible plan (despite the fact that the agency is less than two decades old). 


People to follow

Jose Antonio Vargas, @joseiswriting
Vargas is the author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, a candid autobiographical account of how he came to be the “most famous undocumented immigrant in America,” and the founder of Define American, an immigrant advocacy organization working to make the world more equitable. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s the co-producer of the Tony Award-nominated play What the Constitution Means to Me, plus a Pulitzer-winning journalist, activist, filmmaker, and a tireless voice for justice. 

Erika Andiola, @ErikaAndiola
As the “undocumented and unafraid” chief of advocacy at RAICES and host of its podcast, Homeland Insecurity, Andiola is always sharing must-read, must-listen stories and segments. Following her will keep you up-to-date on policy and progress, and give you the heads up when a new podcast episode drops.

Alida Garcia, @leedsgarcia
Alida Garcia’s pinned tweet is a super long, super actionable thread outlining ways you can do something about family separations at the border. The VP of advocacy for, her work includes founding Inclusv, an advocacy group for POC in politics and government. 

Sophia Gurulé, @s_phia_
As an attorney and immigration policy advocate with the Bronx Defenders—a nonprofit working to revolutionize how low-income people are represented in the justice system—Gurulé puts forth a fearless and brilliant abolitionist perspective. Whether it’s regarding ICE, the police, or the prison-industrial complex, she cuts through the bullshit and tells you which politicians are putting in the work.


Gurulé told VICE she recommends following the #FreeOusman hashtag to learn about the injustices against Ousman Darboe, a Black immigrant who was pardoned more than a year ago, remained in ICE detention for months, and is still at risk of deportation. 

Organizations to support and donate to

United We Dream
As the largest immigrant youth-led network in the United States, United We Dream has a section of their website devoted to guides, toolkits, and additional research on everything from applying for or renewing your DACA to dismantling anti-blackness.

As a hub for digital activism, Mijente campaigns run the gamut from grassroots organizing to local and federal-level advocacy. You can donate here to support their fight for Latinx rights; they do great work, and they have great merch.

Detention Watch Network
At the forefront of the ICE abolition movement was Detention Watch Network, which focuses mainly on immigrant incarceration (and incarceration and criminalization in the U.S. more broadly), with the ultimate goal of abolishing immigrant detention. They have reports on everything from ICE and the spread of COVID-19 to the agency’s fiscal and managerial irresponsibility.

Follow Emily Cassel on Twitter.