Edgar Mendez

Milwaukee Tough on Undocumented Immigrants

More likely than state or nation to deport them for minor offenses. A special report.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Apr 22nd, 2014 09:54 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Jose Calderon, a married father of two from Mexico, found out the hard way just how easy it is to fall in the crosshairs of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Wisconsin.

His ordeal began with a traffic accident on an icy freeway in December 2012, followed a few months later by a traffic stop while driving his wife to work in Ozaukee County. He was ticketed both times for driving without a license. The tickets were his first and only run-ins with the law.

“I’d had my license for eight years with a clean record,” said Calderon. In 2007 the state passed a law requiring applicants to submit legal proof of residence, preventing undocumented immigrants from renewing or receiving their licenses.

Calderon hired a lawyer and showed up for court in Ozaukee County on July 8, 2013, as ordered, attended his hearing and paid the fine. Waiting there to whisk him away — along with four other Hispanics — were officials from Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).

Calderon and the other men had been identified for detainment through the IDENT/IAFIS system, a fingerprint scan that pinpoints people to take into custody for possible deportation.

The intent of the system is to identify undocumented immigrants in federal, state or local custody (or at-large), who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses or have immigration violations.

It is used to target individuals for deportation as part of Secure Communities, a federal program that aims to remove undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to public safety. The ICE Secure Communities program, initiated in 2009, has resulted in 322,706 deportations nationwide as of Jan. 31, 2014, when data was last made available.

According to Gail Montenegro, public affairs officer for the Department of Homeland Security, ICE’s highest priority is to remove individuals who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety, including “aliens convicted of violent crimes or felonies, and repeat offenders.”

“The composition of the individuals that ICE removes is in line with these priorities,” wrote Montenegro in an email to NNS.

Deportation-bars-450x603But, across the nation, many individuals tabbed for deportation were convicted of minor offenses such as traffic violations, or no crime at all. In 2012, NNS reported that 34 percent of Milwaukee County deportees had no criminal record. Critics of Secure Communities question whether the program is actually about public safety, or an excuse to deport undocumented immigrants.

In early 2014, 24 percent of Milwaukee County deportees had no criminal record.

In Milwaukee County, 188 individuals classified as criminal deportees have been forced to leave the country since Jan. 1, 2011, when the Secure Communities program was initiated in Wisconsin. An additional 58 were deported for other reasons, such as violating their visa or for being removed and returning to the U.S.

Of the 188, 44 percent were categorized as Level 3, meaning they were convicted of minor offenses such as speeding, loitering or littering. This is a higher rate than the state (38 percent) or the nation (37 percent).

Twenty-seven percent of Milwaukee’s criminal deportees were classified as Level 2 (convicted of a felony, or three or more misdemeanors.) Only 29 percent were Level 1 offenders, guilty of the most serious offenses.

In Milwaukee County, Level 2 and 3 deportees comprise 71 percent of those deported due to criminal convictions. Nationally, the combined rate is 61 percent.

Nancy Flores, who leads the New Sanctuary Movement, part of a nationwide coalition of faith-based groups that support immigrant families affected by deportation, said cases like Calderon’s are common.

“Many of the people that are facing deportation or have family members who are, say their troubles started with minor traffic offenses,” Flores said.

In 2012 the Milwaukee County board passed legislation ending ICE detainers for non-criminal immigrants or those who’ve been accused or convicted of minor crimes, such as driving without a license. Consequently, enforcement officials no longer hold immigrants in custody for ICE unless they’ve been convicted of, or are wanted for, a serious crime. These rules don’t apply to the counties outside of Milwaukee. If individuals are detained in another county, they are returned to the city to be processed by immigration officials.

In late February, Voces De La Frontera (VDLF), an immigrant rights group based in Milwaukee, held a protest condemning ICE officials for targeting undocumented immigrants at county courthouses and those leaving immigration hearings at the ICE office on 310 E. Knapp St., in downtown Milwaukee. The group sent a letter to ICE officials requesting an end to a practice they consider racial profiling, citing reports that ICE has routinely showed up in courthouses in Milwaukee, Racine, Dane, Ozaukee and other courthouses in Wisconsin.

Jose Calderon speaks about his case during a deportation protest in front of ICE’s Milwaukee office on 310 E. Knapp St. (Photo by Edgar Mendez)

Jose Calderon speaks about his case during a deportation protest in front of ICE’s Milwaukee office on 310 E. Knapp St. (Photo by Edgar Mendez)

According to Montenegro, individuals identified for deportation typically have completed their criminal proceedings before ICE takes them into custody.

However, Flores said that in many cases ICE officials show up while court cases are still in progress. “They (ICE officials) come to the courthouse on days [when] there will be translators,” signaling that defendants who don’t speak English also will be there.

The city’s annual “May Day” march to stop deportations, which in the past has drawn thousands of people, usually ends at Veterans Park.  But, this year’s march on May 1 will conclude at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to protest the ICE practice.

Flores said individuals trying to do the right thing by going to court and paying their fines end up facing deportation, which instills a deep fear of law enforcement in the community.

“They’re afraid to go to court, to drive to work, but they have to,” Flores said.

Montenegro said that changes have been made to prevent those guilty of minor traffic offenses and other misdemeanors from being deported. For example, ICE detainers cannot be issued to individuals charged with a minor traffic offense until they are convicted, unless they have other convictions on their record.

ICE officials have also created a training program for state and law enforcement agencies to provide more information about how Secure Communities works and the rights of undocumented immigrants in the criminal justice system, according to Montenegro.

In recent years, the percent of Level 3 individuals being deported has dropped both nationally and locally, while the percent of L1 deportees has risen. During the first 20 months of the Secure Communities program, Level 3 individuals made up 52 percent of those deported from Milwaukee for criminal offenses. That figure dropped to 44 percent as of Jan. 31, 2014.

Montenegro said the Level 1 numbers are going up because some offenders have finished their jail or prison terms and are now being deported.

Maria Ryan, a Milwaukee immigration attorney, agrees with Montenegro that many serious criminals are sitting in jails and will eventually be deported.

Still, she believes that ICE is targeting people who don’t represent a threat, and is guilty of racial profiling, especially at the courthouses. “These people are not a priority; they have no criminal record,” Ryan said of many immigrants tabbed for deportation.

According to the Secure Communities memorandum of agreement, the use of the IDENT/IAFIS system for purposes of ethnic or racial profiling is not permitted.

Ryan said immigrations officials are creating a culture of fear at courthouses and other sensitive locations where people should feel safe. She said often undocumented immigrants have no clue that by pleading guilty to minor offenses they risk deportation because they have a conviction on their record.

“If they knew they might lose their families, they wouldn’t plead, they’d borrow money and fight the case,” Ryan said.

Once an individual has been tabbed for detainment by ICE, the case becomes federal and is much harder to fight, according to Ryan.

Currently, Calderon’s case is in limbo. The average wait for immigration court cases is 550 days as of January 2013, according to TRAC Report Inc., a nonpartisan project that tracks and reports government information.

As he waits, Calderon said he doesn’t know what’s happening with his life. He said that all he knows is that what’s best for his family is to remain in America, where they have more opportunities.

Said Calderon, “The future of my kids is here; I have to give them a better life.”

Voces ICE Protest

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

6 thoughts on “Milwaukee Tough on Undocumented Immigrants”

  1. Andy says:

    I’m open to immigration reform and, with more secure borders, eventual “amnesty” for current illegal immigrants. However, in the mean time I am not swayed by articles pointing out that people who are breaking the law (by being in the country illegally, driving without a license, most likely not paying taxes, etc) are having to face the consequences.

  2. Trevor McFredson says:

    Agreed. The sense of entitlement displayed by illegal aliens is incomprehensible. “There are more opportunities here.” So what? That doesn’t give you free reign to break the law just because it’s not convenient for you to go through the process of moving here legally. Lots of people come here and jump through the hoops and do just fine. And you’re getting sent home? Boo hoo. Go look up what some other countries do to illegal aliens, then come back and cry about cruelly you’re mistreated by the big bad Americans. And your “my family is being broken up” schtick is pretty weak, as well, since prisons serve the same function, but nobody ever tries to get out of prison by making that argument.

    All that said, why is this even an issue? What other country tolerates millions of illegals living in its borders? I can’t think of a single country that’s even remotely as lenient towards illegals as we are.

  3. Tim says:

    FACT: The feds do not have the resources to round up every ‘illegal’ immigrant.

    So why are they spending their time rounding up the immigrant jaywalkers when there are murderers and robbers afoot?

    I understand the right-wing mind, you don’t want to improve government… just shrink it. Well, that doesn’t exactly work out well for the little people that have to worry about being victims of crime or their tax money being wasted.

    Go ahead, defend the lazy ICE agents that pick up immigrant speeders instead of working a tough case deporting immigrant gang members.

  4. Jeff says:

    This is the opposite of what more progressive cities do. Like it or not, undocumented immigrants are here, for a multitude of reasons, and most would legalize their status given the opportunity. But immigration laws are byzantine, and Republicans in Congress have no interest in passing immigration reform. Deporting speeders and jaywalkers needlessly separates people from their children and spouses, some of whom are legal residents. It also destabilizes neighborhoods: Crimes go unreported — and the area’s quality of life suffers — because people are afraid to call the police. This is good for the city? Shame on Milwaukee.

  5. Trevor McFredson says:

    This is the opposite of what more progressive cities do.

    Why should we care what outsiders do? “More progressive cities,” whatever that means, can have our illegals, too, if they love them so much.

    But immigration laws are byzantine, and Republicans in Congress have no interest in passing immigration reform.

    Again, lots of people come to the US legally every year. The process is difficult, but by no means insurmountable.

    Deporting speeders and jaywalkers needlessly separates people from their children and spouses

    And? Deportation is the standard punishment for the crime of illegal immigration. Everyone who comes here illegally knows that this will be a risk for as long as they stay here. Choosing to start a family under such circumstances is their own problem. Again, go look up what other countries do to illegal aliens. We just put them on a bus or a plane home, we don’t torture or kill them.

    Crimes go unreported — and the area’s quality of life suffers — because people are afraid to call the police.

    So illegals contribute to the crime rate by not reporting crimes? And you’re using this as an argument for illegal immigration?

    This is good for the city?

    Yes, it is. No business has a god-given right to cheap labor, which is what this is actually about. Can’t afford to pay Americans? Then you go out of business, end of story. Milwaukee needs more deportations, not fewer.

  6. I am TIRED of people like Christine Newman Ortiz who only care about “their people” and not others in this country. MPS spends MILLIONS of dollars every year to educate illegal Mexican children. Milwaukee County hospitals are going out of business because of these blood suckers. Go to ANY hospital in the any time of day and you will see a PREPONDERANCE of Spanish – speaking Mexican illegals usurping our emergency departments because they have no insurance. E N O U G H!!!!!! These people r BREAKING OUR COUNTRY DOWN!! NO NO NO COUNTRY IN THE WORLD DOES THIS!! Who do they think they R – coming here illegally and EXPECTING rights? How about others? How about 12 Million illegals from Rwanda, 12M ILLEGALS from Slovakia, 12M illegals from Ukraine, 12M illegals from Turkey, 12 M illegals from Poland, 12M illegals from Albania? ???? Get the drift? Why do these Mexicans get to be the ones to stay here in the tens of millions?

    They are needy , undereducated , illiterate people who add NOTHING to our country if you calculate how MUCH THEY TAKE!!! Get RID OF THEM!!

    They cause accidents, homicides, create drug gangs, etc. The people who live on the borders of Mexico are at their wits’ end. The liberal press does not report all the homicides and crime they commit!!

    Deport them and close up the border! Get immigration reform that makes them go to the end of the line, like everyone else.

    They are unneeded USERS who are destroying our country1 The only ones who don’t see this are the rich liberals living in the burbs so they don’t have to deal with them, their loud music, their cars parked on their front lawns , and their 12 semi – naked children running unsupervised all over the street.

    ILEGAL MEXICANS, GO HOME!

    WE need to take care of our African American population first! THEY need jobs! YOU have no right to ANYTHING in this country!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *