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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It’s Happening Here

Immigration raids in homes, on the street

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It sounds like something that happens in Baghdad or 1980s El Salvador— individuals being taken from their homes, never to return again. But it isn’t happening a world away in a war zone or under a brutal regime. It’s happening in Milwaukee, and the targets are immigrants who are not in the United States legally.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has categorized these immigrants as “fugitives” who have been given a final order of deportation and have remained in the country. But that term encompasses a variety of people who aren’t criminals, said Cindy Breunig of the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera.


“A definition of a fugitive is someone who has been given a final order of deportation and is still in the country,” Breunig said. “Many times people are issued these final orders of deportation without knowing it.”

Breunig said confusion caused by a change of address, unscrupulous immigration lawyers and bureaucratic red tape could cause someone not to receive all of their paperwork related to the immigration process. Once that happens, ICE targets the individual and takes him or her into custody. If the immigrant has been given a final order of deportation, he or she is deported with no hearing or right to a defense. If ICE picks up an individual who is in the country illegally but hasn’t been ordered to leave the country, that person has a right to a hearing, a defense and the ability to post bond and return home.

Breunig said ICE has been increasingly targeting individuals at their homes or in their workplaces instead of conducting large-scale raids on groups of people at work sites. She said it’s easier for ICE’s raids on individuals to be conducted under the radar so that the community doesn’t organize a headline-generating response. “And in five minutes, lives are changed forever,” Breunig said.

Rosa’s Story
Milwaukee resident Rosa said her boyfriend was seized and deported by ICE at Easter time. “The Thursday before Easter I had gone to work and my boyfriend calls me up and tells me that I had to come home right now, ‘Immigration’s here,’” Rosa said, still upset about that morning. “I was like, ‘What do you mean Immigration is here for you.

What is going on?’ He was not shown any papers—nothing. They just said that they had the order for him to be deported. They didn’t show ID. They had a truck in front of my house and it was not labeled. Nothing. After they had taken him, there was another car parked about a block away, also not labeled. They came in blue jackets. Like normal people. No ID, no nothing.”

That would be the last time Rosa saw her boyfriend. The ICE agents left Rosa with the couple’s children and told her they were taking her boyfriend Downtown. But Rosa called around and couldn’t find him in the city. Voces de la Frontera helped her find him in the Dodge County Correctional Facility, which rents out beds for immigration detainees. Within a week, he was in Mexico City, with no money, no ID, no personal belongings and, most importantly, without Rosa and their children.

Rosa said she’s stunned by what happened, especially since her boyfriend had a clean record and didn’t cause any trouble. She’s trying to work out a way to reunite the family, but her boyfriend is not allowed back into the United States for another 10 years. Until then, she’s trying to adjust to the life of a suddenly single, working mother. She said her children are already showing the strain of the raid and the loss of their father.

“What am I supposed to do now?” she said. Breunig said she knows of other individuals like Rosa’s boyfriend who have disappeared suddenly through deportation. One woman was deported, even though law enforcement is still trying to solve her son’s murder. Another teenager was picked up in a van by ICE, got stuck in a Kenosha-area deportation center for 14 days until his family could prove he was a minor, and spent 28 days in a Chicago residence while awaiting his deportation hearing. While families are more or less powerless during this process—many don’t visit the detention center because that could target them for deportation as well—some families are finding assistance through organizations such as Voces de la Frontera and churches.

Father Alvaro Nova of the Holy Angels Cathedral in Milwaukee is active in the new sanctuary movement, a coalition of faith communities that supports immigrant families from being splintered by deportations. “We want to show that this is a problem, especially for families,” Nova said. “We know the realities of the families. We’re looking for solutions. We need to change the rules and change the laws.”

Voces de la Frontera is sponsoring a statewide civil rights march on May 1, which will call for an end to immigration raids and the separation of families through deportation. Participants will also call on presidential candidates to create a just and humane immigration policy within the first 100 days of the new president’s administration.

For more information, go to www.vdlf.org.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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