In this paper, I examine how the discourse of prison abolition, an idea emerging from Black radical traditions, has emerged in contemporary immigration rights and justice organizing. I begin by discussing the idea of abolition and its connection to histories of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and the prison industrial complex. I then consider how a movement that called for the abolition of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) manifested during 2018 as the Trump administration continued its practices of dividing migrant families, detaining children in cages, and holding thousands of other migrants in indefinite detention in horrific conditions around the country. I consider these calls first by looking at them in so-called “mainstream” discourse, which could not, in the end, imagine a world without Border Patrol, ICE, or immigrant detention. I then juxtapose those calls with those from queer and trans migrant organizers, which not only imagined a world free from prisons, but also built connections with other marginalized and criminalized communities. The contrast between the two shows both the risks and possibilities of calls to #abolishICE and abolition discourses more broadly, which include cooptation, coalition, and a wider political imaginary for migrant justice.
Karma R. Chávez is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.