Jose Alejandro De la Cruz-Espinoza, a Milwaukee resident, was with his wife and three young daughters on Monday, September 23, 2019 when he was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, with the assistance of local police officers in violation of Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) policy.

Two staff members from Voces de la Frontera responded to the hotline call from De la Cruz and promptly went to his location, at 5th and Becher Street, to verify his report. Upon arriving on the scene they witnessed first-hand the apprehension of De La Cruz-Espinosa by ICE, in collaboration with the MPD.

“ICE agents wouldn’t let us say goodbye. They wouldn’t let us hug him. Nothing,” said De La Cruz-Espinosa’s wife Kristine, a US citizen and from the Oneida Nation. “They physically dragged my daughters out of the car, and they did not provide a search warrant. They terrorized my family.”

Voces de la Frontera shared the incident with the Milwaukee community to show the trauma of family separation, the terror of immigrant communities, and the dehumanization that occurs when local law enforcement collaborates with ICE. The social justice organization is pressuring the MPD immediately to end its collaboration with ICE, and to vote in favor of an amended Standard Operating Procedure on Immigration (SOP130) to include specific language that ensures the MPD does not assist ICE in the future.

Around 9:30 am, Jose De la Cruz-Espinosa was arrested by the MPD in collaboration with ICE. Jose was with his wife and their three daughters, aged 14, 13, and 11. The family was in their vehicle outside of their home getting ready to go to school when ICE agents blocked and approached their vehicle. The family refused to open the doors demanding ICE present a judicial warrant. ICE flagged MPD assistance to the scene. An MPD officer assisted ICE by forcefully reaching into vehicle to unlock and open the doors. While Jose’s wife and children cried out, MPD officers arrested and handcuffed him while he was still inside the vehicle. Jose was handed over to ICE agents who took him into custody.

“It is undeniable from video recordings, both inside and outside of the vehicle, that Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) collaborates with ICE to break up families,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. “It is exactly why we have been calling on Mayor Barrett, Police Chief Morales and members of the Fire & Police Commission to support revising existing MPD language to ensure incidents like these do not happen. It is an immoral and gross misuse of scarce public dollars. The use of MPD officers, canines, and resources, to carry out these operations undermines MPD’s mission to build community trust and safety when they serve as a tool by ICE to break up working-class families.”

As the Trump administration escalates its attacks on immigrant and refugee families, MPD collaboration with ICE undermines confidence and trust in reaching out to local law enforcement when they need to. This fear and mistrust of local law enforcement extends to children in these households who are living through the deportation of a parent or a raid.

“The last thing I want to see is the chilling effect when people are reaching out for help,” said Melissa Soberalski, an immigration attorney working with the De la Cruz family. “As a lawyer that works with victims of crime such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, trafficking, and other forms of violence, it’s essential that these individuals feel safe to report crimes to authorities and have access to pathways for protections. There needs to be a protocol change within the Milwaukee Police Department because they’re not doing what they’re saying they’re doing.”

The De la Cruz-Espinosa survived through their small family run business. Without Jose, the sole financial provider, his wife is struggling to cover immediate needs. The family has a Go-Fund-Me to help cover costs to prevent Jose’s deportation and their basic needs.

“My husband is not the man ICE is trying to make him out to be. We’ve been together for sixteen years. He’s my best friend, a loving father, and loyal friend to many. He’s a hard-working man that does all that he can to support our family. ICE and the Milwaukee Police Department are treating my family and I like we’re nothing. They took away someone’s father, our provider, how could they stand there, smile, and act like that’s ok, while they ripped a father from his children?” said Kristine De la Cruz. “My daughters don’t understand any of this, and it hurts me so much when I think of them in the car screaming for their daddy. My daughter had a breakdown in school yesterday. How are they supposed to process the trauma of our family being separated?”

Mayor Tom Barrett has asked the Fire and Police Commission to review and clarify the Milwaukee Police Department’s involvement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after an officer assisted the agency with an arrest. Mayor Barrett said that the city needs to focus on violent crime and illegal drug activity while “the federal government is responsible to enforce and utilize its resources on immigration issues.”

Voces de la Frontera

Lee Matz