Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, a Democrat Senate candidate, has come under scrutiny from Republicans and fact checkers over his links to the movement to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This week, PolitiFact dinged Republicans for a “mostly false” statement in an ad that says Barnes supports abolishing ICE despite the fact that the self-described progressive has been photographed holding an “ABOLISH ICE” T-shirt in the past.
“There is a photo of Barnes holding an ‘Abolish ICE’ T-shirt, but he has said was holding it in solidarity with immigrants who were being separated from children at the border,” PolitiFact wrote in its evaluation of the ad.
Wisconsin Democrat Senate candidate Mandela Barnes wants to abolish ICE. pic.twitter.com/Rw1jRkWy8l
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 10, 2022
The fact checking organization said that said Republican criticism of Barnes over his position on ICE was “off the mark,” citing campaign denials and that he had proposed less extreme reforms in the past.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) had run an ad saying that Barnes “supported abolishing ICE,” highlighting the possible links between Barnes and the radical movement.
During his campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018, Barnes posed while holding an “ABOLISH ICE” T-shirt and replied to an activist with the Democratic Socialists of America on Twitter, saying that he wanted to get a T-shirt with a similar moniker on it. When questioned about the controversy, his team has denied any support for the movement.
“The Lt. Governor has been crystal clear that he does not support abolishing ICE,” said Barnes spokeswoman Maddy McDaniel.
Anna Kelly, the communications director for Republican Tim Michels’ gubernatorial campaign, called the fact check “ridiculous.”
“This may be the most ridiculous @PolitiFactWisc hack piece I’ve ever seen, which says a lot,” she tweeted. “So according to them, he’s holding a shirt promoting a movement he doesn’t support out of ‘solidarity’?”
Despite the denial of support for abolishing ICE, Barnes has remained critical of the agency and been vocal about working on “comprehensive” immigration reform.
“I am not a part of the Abolish ICE movement because no one slogan can capture all the work we have to do,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But I do support comprehensive reform in our immigration agencies that protect our borders while establishing a pathway to citizenship and ensuring no one coming to this country has to experience traumas like family separation.”
Barnes has also been embraced by far-Left politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Groups backing Barnes that support defunding the police include the Center for Popular Democracy and the Working Families Party. However, a spokeswoman for the Barnes campaign said in February that he had not necessarily endorsed the positions of the groups supporting him.
“These groups are endorsing the lieutenant governor, not the other way around,” said Maddy McDaniel.
Barnes’ opponent, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has been endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council and has made border security one of his key issues as senator.