Immigrants in Milwaukee won a huge victory on December 12, when the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) Policy Committee voted to endorse Voces de la Frontera’s recommended changes to the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) Policy of Immigration (SOP 130).

If approved by the full FPC on December 18, the new policy would require police to have a judicial warrant signed by a judge in order to help Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrest people for possible deportation.

“Having a clear policy that requires a judicial warrant in order for the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a legal position. It’s not going to threaten funding, it’s been passed by many other cities, and has been upheld by the courts,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. “We’re glad the FPC Committee rejected a proposal from the Police Chief that would have included six loopholes allowing working with ICE agents even without a judicial warrant. These over-broad exceptions would have opened the door to racial profiling and unconstitutional detentions and lead to unjust ICE detentions and deportations.”

Attending the FPC committee hearing was long-time Milwaukee resident Jose de la Cruz and his family. They were reunited December 11, after Jose spent 79 days in jail. He had been arrested on September 23 while with his family in their car, on their way to drop their children off at school. Neither the police nor ICE had a judicial warrant for his arrest, which was a traumatic event for his wife and especially the three daughters with him at the time. The arrest was captured on video and showed MPD making the arrest as proxies for ICE Agents. As the family walked down the hallway to the City Hall hearing room, they were surrounded by about one hundred supporters who chanted “Justice for Jose.”

“It was a traumatizing experience to see your kids crying, and they’re tearing your family apart, and there is nothing that you can do. On top of that, you’re surrounded by all these agents, and Milwaukee Police come and harass you telling you that if you don’t get out of the car they’re going to do things to your family, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s horrible,” said Jose de la Cruz. “My youngest daughter now fears police officers when she sees them. We need stronger standards against ICE and police collaboration so more families are not traumatized and torn apart.”

The original language in the revisions approved by Police Chief Alfonso Morales included exceptions to allow officers to assist in the execution of administrative warrants under six circumstances. They would have been when: “A person is engaged in or is suspected of terrorism or espionage. The person is reasonably suspected of participating in a transnational criminal street gang. The person is arrested for any violent felony. The person is arrested for a sexual offense involving a victim who is a minor. The person is a previously deported felon. Any other serious felony demonstrates the person is a safety threat to the population at large.

Legal representation for the National Immigration Law Center argued that judicial warrants require probable cause, and the burden to show probable cause to obtain such a warrant would be on ICE and not the MPD. The amended policy will allow MPD to perform its public safety duties, while also fostering trust within the diverse community it serves. Additionally, the policy will keep families together, build trust in law enforcement, and promote greater public safety in the City of Milwaukee.

“As the city that will host the Democratic National Convention in 2020, we should be sending a strong message that Milwaukee is a welcoming city for all and our community is standing up for immigrant workers and their families,“ added Neumann-Ortiz.

“Racialized policing and immigration arrests continue to violate the core tenets of human rights, of which the United States has long touted itself a global champion. Yet, human rights abuses continue to occur in our very own country, and as this case and current trends with policing highlight, here in Milwaukee, WI. As the commission charged with “…advising the appropriate department or division of county government of the proper procedures for preserving the equal rights of persons as guaranteed by the law,” we are required to remind political leadership of the guiding principles to which government especially must adhere.” – Milwaukee County Human Rights Commission

Lee Matz
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