Immigration Rights Activists and City Come to An Agreement Over Immigration Changes

Jul 14, 2017

The Milwaukee Police Department and advocates for immigrants have come to an agreement over how the MPD treats immigrants. Earlier this month, the advocates cried foul after news broke about changes made to the MPD Standard Operating Procedure. They argued the changes would make it easier for federal officials to initiate deportation. While an agreement has been reached, not everyone is happy. 

Around 30 minutes before the start of the Fire and Police Commission meeting Thursday night, immigrants and their advocates filled the rotunda at Milwaukee City Hall. They sang and held signs urging Mayor Tom Barrett to stand with them. A little later on, MPD Assistant Chief James Harpole had this to say.  

“It’s really important for everybody to understand that the Milwaukee police department does not enforce federal immigration law. We did not do that under the previous policy, the recently adopted policy. Nor do we do that under the amended policy that I’m presenting here today,” Harpole says.  

Under the Trump administration, law enforcement agents have been ordered not to prohibit or restrict government officials from sharing information about someone’s citizenship or immigration status.  

Harpole says the MPD had to change the language of its standard operating procedure in order to comply. But immigrant rights advocates were upset about the new wording because it said the police department “shall” make such reports about people to federal officials. Harpole says the newly agreed upon language gets around that problem. Harpole outlined Police Chief Edward Flynn's plans.  

“He is going to change the language from police members shall inform federal immigration officials to police members shall using discretion consistent with federal law inform immigration of the whereabouts or behaviors of any suspected illegal immigrant or foreign visitor when the immigrant or foreign visitor, again, we talk about those six things,”  Harpole says.  

Those six things include an immigrant who has a felony record, is helping bring undocumented immigrants into the country or is thought to be involved with violent gang activity. Darryl Morin is with the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. He says that while his organization helped draft the compromise language, he’s still not happy.  

“It is LULAC of Wisconsin’s firm belief that no changes were ever necessary to bring the Milwaukee Police Department SOP 130 into compliance,” Morin says.  

Morin says the original changes  alienated and scared people.  

“It is in the public interest for all to feel comfortable in calling the police when they witness a crime or they see an accident or a medical emergency. And that people feel comfortable calling the fire department when they see a fire. It is in the public interest. We know that then there is mutual respect, trust and comfort among all, great neighborhoods do bloom,” Morin says.   

Before Thursday night’s meeting, the Fire and Police Commission was not given a chance to review and approve the changes, as is typically done. A number of commissioners expressed outrage over the oversight, including Marisabel Cabrera. She suggests the MPD has been acting without the citizen input the commission provides. 

“A big problem with the revisions that were made were due to the process that was used. It lacked transparency and unnecessarily circumvented our usual practice in modifying or revising SOPs. This board was specifically created to provide the community the opportunity and authority both MPD and the fire department and it is made up of a diverse cross section of the community to be the voice of the community,” Cabrera says.  

Commissioner Cabrera went on to remind Chief Flynn that he is subject to discipline from the board as well.