Arrest video fuels outrage over Milwaukee Police helping ICE

By: - September 26, 2019 7:00 am
The de la Cruz family

The de la Cruz family. (Photo courtsey of their GoFundMe campaign.)

The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) has become embroiled in controversy after its officers were filmed assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the arrest of a local man. While getting ready to go to school outside their home, Jose Alejandro (Alex) de la Cruz-Espinosa was removed from his car and arrested as his wife and three daughters ages 14, 13 and 11 years of age cried and begged, “No, my dad!”

The arrest occurred just two days before the Fire and Police Commission is set to vote on changes to the department’s ICE cooperation protocols. Video of the arrest was taken by members of the immigrant-rights group Voces de la Frontera, and uploaded to the group’s website. Officers blocked the staff members from approaching the family, and brought at least one canine to the scene for unclear reasons.

“Where’s the warrant?” asked a woman, standing outside of the camera shot as Voces de la Frontera staff members spoke with Milwaukee PD officers, standing between them and the family. “We just put it in the system for a probation violation,” one of the officers responds. “We’ve been doing this for 11 years, and we don’t have to show him a warrant.”

The same officer said that his squad happened to be driving past when the immigration agents, “asked for their help.” MPD public information officer Sheronda Grant emailed Wisconsin Examiner, “ICE agents flagged down an MPD member and requested assistance in apprehending a suspect with active warrants, which MPD provided.” It’s not clear exactly what the probation violation, or warrants entailed. At 55 seconds into the six-minute-plus video, the MPD officer tells the off-camera Voces member, who asked about the warrants, “We’re actually kind of here for exactly this. So that you guys don’t meddle in their business.” Several MPD officers and vehicles were on the scene, as evidenced by the video.

Moments later speaking with MPD, the staff members were approached by a female ICE agent who tried to provide clarification on the situation. “Obviously he’s married to a U.S. citizen right? Which is very good, actually this could’ve helped him a lot because we know he has no status. But the mere point that he’s not being very cooperative, because we need to speak with him.” As she begins to identify herself to the filming staff members, a larger bearded male agent taps her on the shoulder. He tells her something inaudible, then leads her away. “Now they’re telling someone who knows something to not speak to us,” said one staff member.

Once the family was removed from their car, his wife, Kristine de la Cruz, walked toward the staff members yelling, “He put his hand in my car and unlocked my door.” She was filming from inside the car, and posted the video on her Facebook page. One of his daughters told Voces de la Frontera staff, “They took him and now I don’t know what to do.”

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin denounced the “MPD officers’ rude behavior to the family, laughing at Mrs. de la Cruz and her daughters through the car windows, and pushing their hands through the windows to force open the door, drag children from the car, handcuff Mr. de la Cruz and hand him over to ICE.”

The civil rights organization wrote, “This underscores the dehumanizing practices that are eroding healthy community relationships with the Milwaukee Police.” MPD chief Alfonso Morales has stated that  he wants to limit contact with the federal immigration force, as it could potentially harm community relations. Currently, the Waukesha Sheriff’s Office is the only Wisconsin police department with an active ICE partnership. However, the Wauwatosa Police Department’s chief Barry Weber has said publicly that he’s open to cooperating with ICE, even as the common council considered resolutions to prohibit that activity.

“The last thing I want to see is the chilling effect when people are reaching out for help,” said Voces de la Frontera immigration attorney Melissa Soberalski. “There needs to be a protocol change within the Milwaukee Police Department because they’re not doing what they’re saying they’re doing.”

Attorney Melissa Soberlaski

The Wisconsin Examiner was unable to find out which detention facility is holding de la Cruz. Chief of staff for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Ted Chisholm emailed, “Mr. de la Cruz has not been booked into the Milwaukee County Jail at any point. Our office was not involved in taking him into custody on a probation violation.” The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), which holds probation and parole violators, didn’t return the Wisconsin Examiner’s phone calls. Chisholm suggested de la Cruz may have been taken to immigration detention facilities in either Kenosha or Dodge Counties. His family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help them raise money for a lawyer and to support the family’s basic needs.

On the page Kristine de la Cruz, who Voces describes as a U.S. citizen and member of the Onieda Nation that has been with her husband for 16 years, writes: “Our family was harassed, traumatized, and torn apart as the Milwaukee Police Department collaborated with ICE which lead to the detention of my husband Jose Alejandro (Alex) de la Cruz-Espinosa. There was no warrant present at any time.  We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye, or give him one last hug. Alex was the sole financial provider for our family.  He worked hard, and loved his family and three daughters. He was working on getting citizenship and doing right in life. All I can focus is on my immediate needs, providing for my daughters, and keeping my family together.  This is a very difficult moment for us, emotionally and financially. I just spent the last $15 I had on gas.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.