Stop “Terrorizing Our Community!”
Group led by Voces de la Frontera protested outside immigration office, calling for end to deportations.
A protest was held today (see video below) by 100 activists led by Voces de la Frontera outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in downtown Milwaukee. They demanded an end to immigration sweeps and deportations that have resulted in 49 detentions of undocumented immigrants in the last month. Ten activists – including Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz – locked together with chains, laid in front of the building’s three garage exits to block ICE vehicles from leaving. The protest lasted for about three hours.
Undocumented immigrants have been getting arrested and detained through the partnership between ICE and the Milwaukee Police Department, as part of the “Secure Communities” program. The largest ICE raid occurred on May 27th when 22 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Milwaukee from their homes and workplaces. The raids typically happen in the early hours of the morning, which is why today’s protest was held at that time.
“I would call it terrorism,” says Jorge Maya, a community activist who was a part of today’s protest. “ICE, what they are doing is terrorizing our communities. Destroying community trust between communities and law enforcement. And the separation of the families is inhumane.”
Though ICE says they target violent criminals, family members and activists tell a different story. They say the vast majority of those picked up in raids here, as well as those happening across the U.S., are non-violent criminals or people who have long ago served their time for offenses committed.
Manuel Lopez, father of three girls and a two year old son, was one of the 22 detained during the May 27th raid. Lopez, who moved to the U.S. when he was eight, had a felony drug possession charge, when he was 20 years old. He was convicted in 2000 and served eight months in jail and two years probation. Lopez has not committed another crime since. Lopez’s green card expired in 2009.
Lopez and his wife Stephanie were getting their children ready for school on Tuesday morning, May 27th, after a weekend spent celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary and their daughter Briana’s 11th birthday. Manuel went to the garage to get the car ready when a Milwaukee police officer approached and asked his name. The officer was soon backed up by four ICE agents. After confirming his identity, the officers told Manuel they were going to take him into custody and he was not allowed to speak with his wife or children before being handcuffed and led away.
His family was frozen in horror as they witnessed this, and then the children and their mother broke down in tears. The children still went to school that day as Stephanie tried to make sense of what was happening to her family. With their father gone, the children worry their mother could be next.
The financial impact has been detrimental; a 12 year personal banker at BMO Harris in Milwaukee, Stephanie has had to dip into her savings to pay for a lawyer and general expenses with the loss of one income. Manuel is being held at Dodge County correctional facility; it’s an hour and a half drive to see him for 30 minutes through bullet proof glass. Stephanie says she feels like he is being treated like a criminal that had killed someone. It costs $5 a minute to call him so even phone calls are difficult because of the cost.
Lopez’s family were among the many who participated in the action today to show support for Manuel as well as other families separated from their loved ones by ICE raids and deportation. Manuel’s brother Ruben and daughter Briana were among the 10 activists chained together, accompanied by the rest of their family in the rally.
That included Manuel’s 13-year-old daughter Destiny, who says: “My father has supported my family through everything and for him to be detained is not right. I feel a loss of hope, I have to take care of my brothers and sisters now and support my mom. I would tell Obama that he is not making wise decisions right now.”
Deportations have skyrocketed under the Obama administration, with over two million since 2008. Immigration raids are happening in urban and rural areas across the U.S., pushing the annual level of deportations close to 400,000.
Beyond the devastation of Manuel’s detention on his family, it has also changed their view of law enforcement. “These are the people that we turn to, to ask for help and now it seems like we can’t trust them,” says Ruben Lopez. “It’s sad, because growing up in this community, we always looked to authority and I feel betrayed.”
Families impacted by these deportations have called on Obama to reconsider the policy. “President Obama and the people at top that are making the laws and legislation don’t see the effects of it in the community, so we are here to tell him how it is tearing our families apart,” says Leilani Lopez, Manuel’s sister in law. “They are targeting hard-working Americans and they need to stop. They are also sending people to areas they are no longer familiar with. They are uprooting them from their homes and throwing them wherever they land. It’s not right.”