Wisconsin lawmakers call on ICE to stop racial profiling at courthouses

Wisconsin Gazette

Wisconsin state Reps. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, joined by other 20 Assembly Democrats, wrote to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Feb. 21 and asked ICE to stop racial profiling at Wisconsin’s courthouses. 

“Members of our community should be able to enter our courthouses without being racially profiled,” said Mason in a news release. “These practices described by constituents are deeply disturbing and must be halted immediately.” 

ICE agents, according to various reports, have routinely racially profiled Latino and non-English speaking individuals at courthouses in Milwaukee, Racine, Dane, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Kenosha, Walworth, Winnebago, Washington and Rock counties.

“The reports of ICE officials racially profiling and intimidating Latino and non-English speaking individuals in our courthouses is deeply troubling and needs to be addressed immediately,” said Zamarripa. “This conduct by ICE officials perpetuates racial stereotypes in our communities and deters Wisconsin residents from cooperating with law enforcement and our judicial system for fear of being profiled.” 

Mason added, “As elected officials of this state, we are calling upon ICE to conduct a thorough investigation of these extremely troubling practices, and to immediately halt these actions at all Wisconsin courthouses.” 

On Feb. 23, immigrant families, elected officials, faith leaders, students and community members will gather at the ICE office in Milwaukee, 310 E. Knapp St., for a news conference and a rally to protest ICE activity.

The event will begin at about 3:30 p.m. and is sponsored by Voces de la Frontera.

Voces wants:

• A meeting in Milwaukee with the ICE’s acting director in the Chicago Field Office and Department of Homeland Security deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

• For ICE to investigate the courthouse arrest and interrogation practices of its Milwaukee Field Office, including allegations of racial profiling. ICE should also investigate the nature of any tips received from county personnel and the apparent violations of agents’ warrantless arrest and interrogation authority under 8 USC § 1357. ICE should take steps to ensure that its officers are properly trained on governing ICE enforcement policy and the statutory and constitutional limitations on its arrest and interrogation authority. 

• ICE to revise its policies and trainings to ensure that courthouse arrests do not occur in Wisconsin or any other location and to ensure that ICE agents do not arrest or detain people based on information they learn because the people have mandatory court appearances or otherwise access court services. ICE should update its Sensitive Locations Memo to explicitly include courthouses as a “sensitive location” site, and ensure that its agents are properly trained not to conduct enforcement actions at courthouses absent extraordinary circumstances. ICE should institute measures to hold agents accountable to this agreement.

“Courts should be a safe place for people complying with or seeking protection from the legal system,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “Voces is committed to informing the affected community about their rights and to challenge this abuse.”

Voces provided three cases:

In Ozaukee County, at the courthouse, Jose Calderon was detained after paying a fine for driving without a license

Calderon was detained on July 8, 2013, after attending a hearing and paying a fine for driving without a license. Aside from two citations for driving without a license, Calderon has no criminal record.

He has lived in Milwaukee since 1997, and is married with two young U.S. citizen children.

After Calderon paid his traffic fine, two ICE agents in plainclothes and a sheriff’s deputy stopped him. The ICE agents asked him in English if he was Jose Calderon. After he said yes, the ICE agents led him to another room in the courthouse, where three ICE agents in plainclothes were holding approximately four other people they had detained that day, all Latinos present in court for hearings related to driving without a license.

Calderon’s immigration attorney was present with him at the court, but the agents refused to allow him to accompany his client into the room. They proceeded to question Calderon.

From the courthouse, Calderon was taken to the ICE office in downtown Milwaukee, interrogated more and released on his own recognizance. 

Calderon believes that his name was on a list people who had hearings that day for driving without a license. There appears to have been some level of collusion between sheriff’s deputies and ICE agents to ensure the agents stopped the people on the list.

According to Calderon, before his arrest, he had no prior contact with ICE, nor had he ever been arrested during the 17 years he has lived in the United States. He believes he was interrogated only because he was a Latino man in court for a hearing for driving without a license, in violation of ICE agents’ warrantless authority under 8 USC § 1357(a)(2).

Now Calderon is in deportation proceedings and faces permanent separation from his family. 

In Milwaukee County, Angela Angeles España was detained after attending court as a spectator at her mother’s hearing.

In July 2012, ICE agents detained España and placed her in deportation proceedings after she came to the Milwaukee County Courthouse to support her mother at a court hearing.

ICE agents came to detain her mother. After the agents took her mother away, they asked España her name. They did not let her leave while they went to make a phone call. After they got off the phone, they told her that she was “illegal” and took her to the ICE office in downtown Milwaukee.

There the agents interrogated her and opened deportation proceedings against her before releasing her on her own recognizance because she has no criminal record.

España has lived in Milwaukee since 2005 and is married with three young, U.S. citizen children. Like Calderon, she faces permanent separation from her family.

España believes that she was interrogated only because she was a Latino woman and in court with another person detained that day.

In Racine County, Angel Perez Juan was detained and deported after trying to attend a hearing for driving without a license.

On Aug. 28, 2013, he went to the Racine County Courthouse for a hearing concerning driving without a license. He has lived in the United States since 1998 and has no criminal record aside from driving without a license infractions. Juan is married and has two adolescent U.S. citizen children.

He sat in Judge Emily Mueller’s courtroom along with other Spanish-speaking Latino people in court for driving without a license hearings. The interpreter was late that day. After some two hours, ICE agents in plainclothes entered the courtroom and proceeded to question people in the court. The agents asked Juan his name, but no questions about his immigration status. Even so, the agents chained him and six others in the courtroom by their hands and feet. All seven were Spanish-speaking Latinos present in court for hearings concerning driving without a license. Juan was never allowed to go before Mueller concerning his charge for driving without a license.

The agents then took the group to the Kenosha County Jail, where they were held for three days. The agents told Juan that they had no information concerning him. When he asked why they were detaining him, the agents only told him that he was in the country illegally and that they were going to take him before an immigration judge. After three days, the agents took Juan to the Milwaukee ICE Office, interrogated him and processed him for deportation.

Juan appears to have been detained by ICE for three days before agents even took his fingerprints or questioned him concerning his immigration status. The six others detained with him the same day had a similar experience. Juan believes he was arrested simply because of his Latino appearance and because he was at court for a hearing concerning driving without a license, in violation of agents’ warrantless authority.

Juan was deported on Sept. 20. He lives in Ciudad Juarez, where he works as a cook, as he did in the United States. He talks with his family once a week.