Waukesha sheriff’s deal with ICE

By: - September 5, 2019 4:00 pm
ICE agent with back to camera

Immigration agent

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin has learned that the Waukesha County sheriff’s office is the state’s only police department to enter into an agreement  with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to use local officers to enforce federal immigration law. 

According to the ACLU, Sheriff Eric Severson renewed the agreement on July 1  and deputized personnel to participate in ICE operations, share information, and detainsuspected undocumented migrants.

This revelation came out of an ongoing effort to learn more about Waukesha County’s relationship with ICE. In April, the ACLU filed Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on any partnerships between Waukesha’s sheriff’s office and ICE. 

“The department refused to produce a single document until after the Sheriff had already extended his partnership with ICE,” the ACLU states in a press release.. “Thus the [287(g)] agreement was renewed without any public oversight.”

Furthermore, the ACLU learned that a public meeting will be held sometime this month to discuss the program. “Because the department buried the notice of that meeting deep in the Waukesha County website and did not invite any concerned citizens or organizations, no members of the public attended,” the civil-liberties group states..

The partnership agreement can be terminated at any time. But Sheriff Severson affirmed his commitment to federal deportation operations in a cover letter for an application to enter the agreement:

“The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office is willing, prepared and committed to assist in [ICE’s] effort to investigate, apprehend and detain aliens pursuant to the statutes…My office and staff will make this program a priority in our jail and welcome additional ICE partnerships.”

Another issue the ACLU plans to explore is any funding or technologies the Waukesha County sheriff’s office may enjoy as long as it is working with ICE. Like many federal agencies, ICE , has access to powerful surveillance technologies. Just weeks ago, Wisconsin became part of a federal surveillance balloon testing program, which ended on Sept. 1. Both residents and elected officials shared concerns that the balloons, operated by the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, were a major privacy issue.

ACLU and partners are aware of a “steering committee” which the sheriff’s office will hold on Oct. 3, 2019 at 2:30pm at it’s own offices, at 515 W. Moreland Boulevard in Waukesha. “The ACLU will attend this meeting and urges concerned community members to also attend to question the Sheriff’s agreement with ICE,” the group states.

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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.