Immigrant rights advocates say the city of Milwaukee has caved to pressure from the Trump administration concerning immigration. The advocates say the Milwaukee Police Department has opened a door that could lead to more deportations. Several groups across the state are now calling for the city to reverse course.
Milwaukee's city hall rotunda was packed on Wednesday morning with people demanding Mayor Tom Barrett stand with the undocumented immigrants in the community. Christine Neumann-Ortiz is executive director of the immigration advocacy group Voces de la Frontera.
“Mayor Barrett, show us some leadership,” Neumann-Ortiz says.
Neumann Ortiz says that because of recent changes made to standard operating procedures for the Milwaukee Police Department, the door has been opened for MPD to expand its role with federal immigration agents.
Under the previous policy, officers could only ask about person’s immigration status if there was a potential threat to the public.
The new procedures take away such safeguards, according to Darryl Morin. He's president of the Wisconsin Branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“It also created a mandatory process that by if someone was arrested mind you, not convicted, not even charged, but if they were arrested for one of these set criteria, that the department had to reach out to INS and provide that information,” Morin says.
Morin says that while advocates for undocumented immigrants just recently found out about the changes, the city had been discussing them for months. Hey says the community should have been included in the conversation.
“Why was it that we weren’t made aware of this until the final hour? Why didn’t it follow the normal process?,” Morin says.
Alderman Jose Perez says his biggest concern is that people may stop reporting crimes because they are scared.
“In order to create safe neighborhoods, we need everyone to contact the authority when issues arise. We don’t have enough people reporting problems as it is. These changes without any public discussion or vote will make our community less safe. This jeopardizes the confidence to the community and the need that we have to cooperate with law enforcement,” Perez says.
The Trump administration has urged local law enforcement agencies to help enforce immigration laws.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn previously has said he's interested in protecting residents -- not in following Trump's directive.
But city officials say Milwaukee needed to change some police operating procedures in order to qualify for two grants, including one that would cover the cost of 25 police officers.
Retired Lutheran Pastor and activist Joseph Ellwanger says that with the changes, Milwaukee is going against everything that this country is supposed to stand for.
“We dare not trade our priceless heritage of diversity and radical welcome for a bowl of porridge, the Bryne grant money and a few police cars,” Ellwanger says.
Though the law took effect today, immigration advocates are asking that the Fire and Police Commission weigh in on the decision at its meeting later this month.
Mayor Barrett released a statement, stressing that the city will continue to not enforce immigration laws and that the changes are only technical. The Milwaukee Police Department had no comment.