Four days of ICE terror in Wisconsin

October 4, 2018

Alex Buckingham reports on the terrifying impact of ICE’s recent “enforcement surge” — and the widespread opposition among local officials and community members.

IN WHAT the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency called a “four-day Wisconsin Enforcement Surge,” immigration agents terrorized communities across the state earlier this month.

Without a word of warning, on Friday, September 21, ICE began surrounding homes, raiding businesses, and pulling over cars.

The surprise raids and kidnappings were organized without the inclusion of local governments. City police departments were unable to answer questions over the four days, because they had been kept in the dark — even though one of the tactics used by ICE agents during the surge was to impersonate police in order to enter homes and tail cars.

As word spread about the raids, locations of immigration agents and descriptions of ICE cars were shared widely on social media, along with “know your rights” material encouraging people to keep their doors closed and refuse entry to anyone without a warrant. Some Madison restaurants closed as workers stayed home out of fear.

Immigrant rights activists protest ICE terror in Kenosha County, Wisconsin
Immigrant rights activists protest ICE terror in Kenosha County, Wisconsin (Voces de la Frontera)

As usual, ICE agents showed no regard for civil liberties. Immigration attorney Alicia Armstrong told the Isthmus that ICE showed up at her client’s home without a warrant and pushed past his wife to storm into his home after she told them not to enter.

Armstrong has been blocked from communicating with her client, who has been working for years to secure legal status, but is now sitting in the Kenosha County Detention Center.

All told, ICE kidnapped 83 people, half of them from the Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay areas.

Because the Gestapo-style roundups pushed the nearly full 250-bed Dodge County Detention Center to capacity, those detained in the Madison area were sent over 100 miles away to Kenosha, making it difficult for family to reach loved ones, lawyers to reach clients, and community members to protest outside the institution detaining our friends, coworkers and family members.

ICE’s press release on its “enforcement surge” declared that “more than half of the aliens arrested by ERO deportation officers during this operation had prior criminal histories,” and then went on to smear all those arrested with a few lurid examples of detained immigrants who the agency claims had prior convictions for sex crimes.

In fact, ICE picked up every immigrant they could get their hands on, while carrying out more targeted kidnappings. The agency’s misleading focus on a few immigrants with alleged sex crime histories is a disgusting policy embodiment of Donald Trump’s speech announcing his presidential run, when he infamously warned that Mexican migrants were rapists.


WHILE ICE put out racist, right-wing talking points portraying all immigrants as violent criminals, Wisconsin’s Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin trotted out the supposedly more nuanced liberal version of the story, in which it’s important to differentiate between “bad” and “good” immigrants.

“I support congressional oversight of the recent actions by ICE in Wisconsin because we need to make sure they are focusing on targeting violent criminals, and drug and human traffickers, not families and DREAMers,” Baldwin said. “I also continue to support passing comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system, strengthen border security and provide a path to citizenship that will keep families together.”

Any statement against the ICE raids is welcome, but our resistance needs to rest on the idea that ICE shouldn’t be rounding up anyone — including immigrants with criminal convictions who have already been punished by the criminal justice system. By echoing calls for even more repression on the border and anti-crime measures, Baldwin is ceding ground to the xenophobic right.

While Baldwin was tacking right to pick up swing votes in the upcoming November election, community members were busy trying to protect their immigrant members from the assault.

Individuals drove through town looking for ICE activity to coordinate responses and to share information online.

The Madison school district has a policy to not allow ICE in the schools, and when ICE raided a McDonald’s close to Madison’s East High School, the school announced the raid over the loudspeaker, warning students of ICE’s proximity.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that both the Madison and Oregon school districts “are letting parents know their rights and offering resources for help”, and that Madison families received an email with “links to a ‘know your rights’ guide and to information on creating a ‘family emergency plan.’”

The Green Bay school district did similar community outreach. A district official told the Green Bay Press Gazette that “absent a warrant or an authorization from a family, we wouldn’t turn a child over to any adult whether it be from ICE or it be any other government agency or any other third party that would come to our schools. We’ve trained our principals, we’ve trained our front office staff who to release kids to and who to release student information to.”

The response from Wisconsin schools mirrors popular sentiment in Wisconsin. Marquette Law School’s recent polling found that 68 percent of respondents thought “undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship” while only 14 percent said they “should be required to leave the country”

This public opinion explains the resistance to ICE, as evidenced by the response of school districts as well by demonstrations like the 1,000-person march to the Madison Capitol in June calling for abolishing ICE.

To this point, no major protests have been called in response to ICE’s four days of terror, a sign that the “surge” had its intended terrifying and disorienting effect. It’s important for Wisconsin activist to respond and show the rogue agency that they’re not welcome in our state.

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