Dan Canon is running for Congress in Indiana’s ninth district this year. A career civil-rights lawyer, Canon filed one of the cases against gay-marriage bans that eventually became the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges, and he proudly wore a Notorious RBG shirt under his suit to the Supreme Court. He is currently representing individuals suing Donald Trump for inciting violence at his rallies.
Canon has also defended clients swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, and fought a Kafkaesque deportation system that, at one point, wouldn’t even disclose the location of his client. Now Canon believes ICE should be abolished entirely.
“I don’t think a lot of people have any kind of direct experience with ICE, so they don’t really know what they do or what they’re about. If they did, they’d be appalled,” Canon told me. “ICE as it presently exists is an agency devoted almost solely to cruelly and wantonly breaking up families. The agency talks about, and treats, human beings like they’re animals. They scoop up people in their apartments or their workplaces and take them miles away from their spouses and children.”
The idea of defunding ICE has gained traction among immigrant-rights groups horrified by the speed at which, under President Donald Trump, the agency has ramped up an already brutal deportation process. Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network, said, “Responsible policymakers need to be honest about the fact that the core of the agency is broken.” Her group led the charge to defund ICE with its #DefundHate campaign last year.
Groups like Indivisible Project and the Center for Popular Democracy have also called for defunding ICE. Brand New Congress, a progressive PAC, has the proposal in its immigration platform.
“ICE is terrorizing American communities right now,” said Angel Padilla, policy director of the Indivisible Project. “They’re going into schools, entering hospitals, conducting massive raids, and separating children from parents every day. We are funding those activities, and we need to use all the leverage we have to stop it.”
Though ICE abolition is spreading on the left, it quickly meets extreme skepticism elsewhere. In part, this is because the mainstream political discourse has a huge blind spot for the agency’s increasingly brutal policies. While elites have generally become concerned with rising authoritarianism, they have mainly ignored the purges ICE is conducting in immigrant communities. For example, in their recent book, How Democracies Die, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky do not mention ICE at all. Centrist pundits like Jonathan Chait have dedicated thousands of words to the threat of “PC culture” on college campuses, but haven’t found time to question whether an opaque and racist deportation force might pose a larger threat to democracy than campus editorial pages.