Holding artwork and signs saying “Stop ICE,” and “Keep families together,” a diverse collective of teenagers, local activists and community leaders gathered at the Milwaukee City Hall on Thursday to send a clear message to Milwaukee city officials.
Voces de la Frontera hosted the event, aided by the Jewish collective Never Again Is Now and other allies, pushing the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) to not participate in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations.
The coalition is demanding specific changes to the Milwaukee Police Department’s (MPD) Standard Operating Procedure on Immigration (SPO-130).
“The Milwaukee Police Department must clearly state that they will not use their resources for enforcing or carrying out any level of the federal immigration policy,” Rev. Joseph Ellwanger told the audience. “Enforcing the convoluted, broken and immoral immigration policy is the responsibility of ICE, not of local law enforcement.”
Currently, the department’s standard policy limits collaboration with ICE, but immigration advocates say the language is too weak. “The current MPD policy is too discretionary and lacks due process protections,” reads a Voces de la Frontera statement. The event was held weeks before the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission is to consider changes to SPO-130, with an initial vote planned for its meeting on Sept. 26. After the rally, activists delivered 1,600 signed postcard petitions to the Fire and Police Commission at its meeting. Voces is continuing to collect signatures asking people to lend their voice by signing petitions, and stay connected through its event page, website and providing further information on frequently asked questions.
Voces de la Frontera is calling on MPD not to assist in ICE raids, not to use any resources for immigration enforcement, not to investigate people’s immigration status, report people or share information with ICE, and not to comply with warrantless requests from ICE to detain people and transfer them to custody.
The law enforcement landscape in Milwaukee County and elsewhere statewide is split on ICE cooperation. Both former MPD chief Edward Flynn and and current Chief Alfonso Morales have expressed concerns that reporting undocumented immigrants could strain community relations, particularly on Milwaukee’s predominately Hispanic south side. Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas has expressed similar views.
Waukesha’s Sheriff Eric Severson, however, has formed Wisconsin’s only ICE partnership. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has condemned the sheriff for stifling public comment on immigration enforcement policies and continuing the collaboration with ICE.
“We believe that trust is one of the foundations for a safe and thriving community,” Markasa Tucker, director of the African American Round Table, told the group gathered at City Hall. “Community members need to have trust that local law enforcement are responsive to local needs and concerns. Right now, communities of color need reassurance that law enforcement policies are created with clarity that has specific language that protects them from racial profiling. This rings true for immigrant communities.”
Javier Escorcia, an immigrant leader with Voces de la Frontera, is from that targeted community. “Our city and our community have an opportunity to stand against racism, which has sadly become more common under the Trump Administration,” Escorcia told the assembly, adding that, Latinos, regardless of their legal status, come to this country with good intentions.” He said people have a “moral responsibility,” to stand up against policies which separate children from families and crowd detention centers. Escorcio gave his speech in both Spanish and English.
A diverse group of young people stood behind the speakers, holding banners and signs. Robert “Bobby” Penner, 25, and organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said the rally was “an exciting time to be on the right side of history.”
Former state Rep. Sandy Pasch, an organizer with Never Again is Now, agreed. “We will not stand idly by while our friends and neighbors are taken from their homes,” she declared from the podium. Pasch says MPD is obligated to create policies which safeguard the communities they serve and protect:
“They must not participate in tearing families apart. They must affirm that Milwaukee is a welcoming community of diversity. Not part of the growing anti-immigrant, xenophobic terror that is occurring across our country.”