Thousands Expected to March for Immigrant Rights Monday in Milwaukee

Feb 13, 2017

Thousands of undocumented immigrants in Milwaukee may skip work Monday, and refrain from shopping at local businesses. They'll march from the south side to the Milwaukee County Courthouse, as part of Voces de la Frontera's annual day of activism. It's meant to show the impact of immigrants and refugees on the local economy and the broader community.

The day comes as some feel under attack, after a surge in enforcement by federal agents in other states in the last week. Worries already had been heightened, after a recent incident in Arizona.

From TV newscast: "Protests erupted in Mesa, AZ as officials tried to deport a woman, possibly the first deportation under President Trump's crackdown on illegal immigrants..."

Authorities deported the undocumented immigrant because she had a felony record for using a false Social Security number. She had been living in the U.S. for decades and was checking in regularly, as ordered. It was during one of those check-ins that she was detained, then transported to Mexico.

President Trump called for a more aggressive approach to illegal immigration in one of his first executive orders. Last week, he urged the nation's police chiefs and sheriffs to help.

"You know the illegals. You know them by their first name, you know them by their nicknames. You have that power. The federal government can never be that precise. But you're in the neighborhoods. You know the bad ones, you know the good ones," Trump said at a gathering of police chiefs and sheriffs.

Trump says gang members, many of them undocumented immigrants, are responsible for much of the violence in U.S. cities.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera fears authorities will use Trump's policy to cast a wide net.

"Through his executive order he has made everybody a national priority, with total disregard to whether or not they're a contributing member to the community, how deep their ties are, what their family ties are, their record," Neumann-Ortiz says.

Neumann-Ortiz says she also is concerned about Trump's call for help from local law enforcement agencies. She says more of them may enroll in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, known as 287(g). It deputizes local officers to act as federal ICE agents. They then have the power to arrest and detain people they suspect are undocumented immigrants.

"It really is a green light to profiling, harassment. It's a gross misuse of precious public resources that we have," Neumann-Ortiz says.

Neumann-Ortiz worries Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke will enroll his agency. He's touted his relationship with federal immigration authorities, saying he'll be working with them to identify "criminal illegal aliens." So one message of Monday's Voces march is to stop Clarke and the 287(g) program.

Clarke declined our request for an interview. But on Facebook, his office says it has not sought to enroll in the program at this time. The post says if the county did get involved, deputies would receive four weeks of special training.

Jonathan Thompson says the program gives local agencies tools to keep their communities safe. Thompson is executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association.

"We want to make certain that sheriffs have all the resources at their disposal to ensure that when somebody is taken into custody, they are rightfully held, they are legally held, and due process is followed," Thompson says.

Thompson says with President Trump's more aggressive approach to illegal immigration, it's likely additional communities will want to sign up to have their officers deputized as ICE agents. Currently, about 40 agencies in 16 states participate. ICE says in the last decade, the officers have identified more than 400,000 immigrants potentially eligible for deportation, most of them at county jails.