Milwaukee, Wisconsin (TFC)– Wisconsin ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is challenging moves to intensify immigration enforcement in Milwaukee. In an apparent surrender to federal pressure, the Milwaukee Police Department is revamping its own policies. These new procedures will replace old policies established using public input and recommendation.
Milwaukee has been in a precarious state of limbo since Sheriff David Clarke’s pledge to dedicate his force to immigration operations. Clarke’s orders came on the heels of ICE raids mushrooming across several states. The random, indiscriminate nature of the detainment’s earned headlines, and Clarke’s later approval.
But the Milwaukee Police Department doesn’t take orders from the controversial sheriff. Yet, the force under the command of Chief Ed Flynn is falling in line with the federal bottom line. “In pursuit of federal dollars”, an open letter by ACLU to Mayor Tom Barrett, sent to TFC and other outlets.
In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece, Mayor Barrett insisted city officials will continue to ethically represent immigrants. However, that’s not how the new orders approved by MPD’s chief, Ed Flynn, read on paper. Namely, MPD discarded restrictions on an officer questioning someone’s immigration status. Additionally, officers will be encouraged to report any “suspicious” immigrate-related activity to federal authorities. In effect, it forces officers to compile any and all information which could assist ICE operations.
Exactly how closely MPD officers will be working alongside ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents is unclear. However, it’s known that MPD is conducting numerous concurrent operations alongside federal agencies at any given time.
One of its more recent, little-covered police shootings actually involved both MPD officers and reputed DEA agents. The circumstances of the killing of Jermaine Claybrooks, however, are still rather murky. Besides witness statements that officers didn’t give the alleged heroin dealer an opportunity to surrender, no information has been provided.
“The current policy was developed with input from the community, the ACLU and others, and represented a balanced approach. Under the current policy the police do not become agents for the enforcement of federal immigration laws, immigrants can feel safe interacting with the police as victims or witnesses, and serious crimes are dealt with appropriately.”– ACLU letter to Mayor Tom Berrett.
Several facets of Trump’s pushes for immigration roundups have disturbed activists and non-profits like ACLU. Controversial verbal rhetoric aside, the nature and steepening tempo of ICE raids have alarmed many. In some cases, loved ones last seen coming home or going to the store simply disappear without notice or warning. Later on, family members discover they were approached by ICE agents, immediately arrested then transported to any number of detainment facilities. Many of those, however, are private prison facilities with reports of less than adequate housing, food, and resources.
Which is where a sizeable portion of ACLU’s worries originate. In a country ripe with mistrust of police, repairing community relations and interactions is vital. Trump’s divisive policies targeting immigrant communities only widens the social fissures MPD officers and others must now navigate. In short, the job becomes that much more difficult and dangerous.
There’s also the added specter of increased surveillance aimed at immigrant-heavy areas of the city. Milwaukee is known to have operational cell site simulators and other sketchy surveillance technologies. This particular gadget creates a dummy cell tower for devices to divulge data to, whether location info or texts and messages.
Also called IMSI catchers, or Stingray, its use is often difficult to independently validate. Most police departments, including Milwaukee, refuse to even acknowledge the existence of IMSI catchers. With these being utilized in immigration roundups, their use in Milwaukee under new policies should concern many.
Technologies like IMSI catchers are normally first acquired by local agencies through the federal government or private sector. In other cases, the devices–and others–make guest appearances in cities then disappear once the operations end. Recently conducted IMSI catcher studies actually documented unusual cell tower activity around an immigration center.
As one of America’s most segregated cities, Milwaukee itself is sectioned off on an almost racial basis. It’s predominantly Hispanic south-side, already heavily policed, could see intensification if MPD gets more immigration proactive. If that happens, then increased surveillance may follow.
“We urge the city to reject the changes to the standard operating procedure of the MPD”, ACLU’s letter reads, “for dealing with the immigrant community.” Rather, the non-profit urges officials to “engage in broader outreach to the immigrant community.” “To make it clear that their interactions with their local police department”, the letter concludes, “will not result in ICE knocking on their doors.”
All of this due to federal threats to cut grant money and additional funds. Citizens elsewhere must now wonder whether similar changes are occurring in their cities unbeknownst to them. It’s also worth questioning how much politicians, judges, and officials besides police are actually aware of. In the case of IMSI catchers at least, very few have a need to know. Secrecy is paramount, and it would appear law enforcement clings to it increasingly by the day. What’s being amended, and what’s already in motion?
The letter sent to Mayor Tom Barrett by ACLU.