Milwaukee’s City Hall was charged with raw emotion last week as community members packed in, shoulder-to-shoulder, to support a family whose loved one had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Holding signs reading, “following orders is not an excuse,” “never again is now” and “close the camps, shut down ICE,” they demanded action by officials, and chastised the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD), for its officers having aided in the arrest.
“I’m here to support my husband, who is my best friend,” said Kristine de la Cruz, wife of Mexican-born Jose Alejandro (Alex) de la Cruz-Espinosa, who was arrested outside his home last Monday, as reported by Wisconsin Examiner here. “Because now I’m living this nightmare, my family is living this nightmare of family separation.”
Mrs. de la Cruz explained to the crowd that the day before Alex was arrested, they were celebrating their youngest daughter’s birthday. “Life was normal, life was happy,” she recalled, struggling to restrain her tears.
Staff members with Voces de la Frontera were on the scene and captured video of the incident. MPD officers formed a line between the advocates and the family, who were inside their car. Officers claimed Mr. de la Cruz was being picked up on a probation violation. Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz told Wisconsin Examiner that the violation involved a minor driving infraction.
MPD has maintained that the ICE agents had already pulled over the de la Cruz family before MPD arrived, and flagged down the nearby officers for assistance. The MPD statement read, in part:
“Before MPD arrived at the scene, ICE agents had conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle. ICE agents advised MPD officers that they had a warrant for a subject located in the vehicle, later identified as Jose de La Cruz-Espinosa, and that the subject refused to exit the vehicle.” De La Cruz-Espinosa was on probation for a 2017 Milwaukee County case for illegally concealing a firearm, a misdemeanor.
“While officers were on scene, the Department of Corrections issued a violation of probation (VOP) warrant for de La Cruz-Espinosa’s arrest. Because of this warrant, and not because of his immigration status, MPD assisted in de La Cruz-Espinosa’s arrest. ICE agents ultimately took him into custody.”
It was not the first time that staff members like Primitivo Torres witnessed an immigration arrest. “It’s always really hard to see the cruelty when they take a dad away from their children,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “To experience that again is devastating to my heart.”
Voces de la Frontera organizer Giselle Vera, who spoke before the crowd, has experienced family separation first hand. Her uncle was picked up on one Friday morning as he prepared to take his children to school.
“An ICE agent showed up at his front steps, and identified himself as a Milwaukee police officer,” recalled Vera. “The agent asked for an owner of a black truck, prompting my uncle to come to the door. We lived in an unsafe neighborhood, so it was not uncommon for the police to come up to our door and ask for information on incidents. We always cooperated, because we wanted to trust the police.” The agent only revealed himself to be ICE after they’d already opened the door. Vera’s uncle was detained, and everyone in the house was asked for I.D. and legal status. Months later, her uncle was allowed to return under an asylum status, likely because Vera knew what to do as an immigration organizer. Countless others, like the de la Cruz family, aren’t so lucky. “His crime was a single traffic violation,” Vera explained to the crowd.
Kristine de la Cruz said after her husband’s arrest, “my world was turned upside down.” Their family owns a small construction company, with Mr. de la Cruz working as the main breadwinner.
“Many people have seen the videos from that day, but they do not understand what a loving father and good friend and loyal friend, and positive influence my husband was for the community in Milwaukee,” she shared tearfully. “If you ask those [who know him] what he was like, what kind of man he was, they’d say he was a hard worker.”
Mr. de la Cruz also painted cars on the side, and played in a local band. Mrs. de la Cruz says that their home is “haunted” by the traumatic event, and that she is struggling to comfort her daughters and herself. “My hope is for this to never happen to another family. And the only way to guarantee that is to strengthen the SP-130 for non-collaboration with ICE.” (The SP-130 is MPD’s standard operating procedure for immigration and ICE cooperation.)
The Fire and Police Commission was set to meet on the Milwaukee Police Department’s standard operating procedure for ICE cooperation the day of the rally. However, the meeting was canceled and delayed until further notice. The Milwaukee Police Department’s public information officer was unavailable to answer Wisconsin Examiner’s question of why the vote was delayed.
The version of events and motivations of officers, however, is muddied by videos taken both from outside and inside the car. An MPD officer told Voces de la Frontera staff members on-camera that they didn’t need a warrant. Meanwhile, police personnel reached into the family car to unlock the door before removing each occupant. The de la Cruz family was using cell phones to film from their perspective.
“It’s not supposed to happen like that, there’s a process that we have,” Torres told Wisconsin Examiner. “We have no problem if they show a judicial warrant signed by a judge. The way the process was handled was wrong, they violated their rights.” Torres feels that regardless of whether the MPD officers were flagged down or called, they should’ve been there in the first place.
Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement that due to limited city resources, the police should focus on violent crime, illegal drug activity, and reckless driving while leaving the enforcement federal policies to federal agents. Last Thursday, he called on the Fire and Police Commission to review the arrest incident.
Angela Lang, of Milwaukee BLOC, says the issues afflicting the immigrant community under the Trump Administration are not new problems for African American allies. “We wanted to make sure that we were helpful and supportive, not just to stand with the immigrant community, but because we do know what it’s like for families to be separated. For law enforcement to literally take away and throw our families and our communities and put them in cages, the way we’re seeing now,” she told Wisconsin Examiner.
“This is not new unfortunately to the history of this country. I think that right now, it’s important for all communities of color who have been affected by white supremacy and the way it’s entrenched in law enforcement, and how it disrupts our families.”
Lang explains that, “a lot of the time people want to divide our communities when really we’re dealing with a lot of the same issues.” The Milwaukee Police Department has long been accused of racially targeting residents with stop and frisks, illegal searches and harassment.
Kristine de la Cruz said that she has spoken with her husband since the arrest, and that he’s being detained in a Dodge County detention center. “They keep moving him to different pods,” she explained. The family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise legal funds, basic needs and for their advocacy to implore city officials and citizens for change. “Please help us, I don’t want this to happen to another family.”
The ACLU of Wisconsin is calling for the full release of all video taken during the arrest.