The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office has changed rapidly since it got a new sheriff, including a policy to stop the sharing of information with federal immigration agents that would help them determine whether inmates were eligible to be deported.
Sheriff Earnell Lucas said his decision to not provide information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents unless a judge issues a warrant was meant to help regain trust in the immigrant community and avoid costly litigation.
“It’s not politics. It’s the right thing to do,” Lucas said last week. “We don’t want to place a chilling effect on any one community of not wanting to communicate with law enforcement.”
After the announcement, ICE representatives said they would “continue to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites, which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests.”
Such tactics by federal authorities have become common during the Trump administration when local law enforcement agencies have decided to stop collaborating with immigration agents.
In February, ICE announced that about 200 people across North Carolina had been arrested after several counties stopped participating in the federal program.
The policy was signed into law in 1996 to bridge a path for state or local law enforcement agencies that wanted to collaborate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. The program is voluntary, and participation, which is subject to federal approval, can later be canceled. The number of agencies signed on to the program has significantly increased under the Trump administration.
ICE’s Atlanta field office director, Sean Gallagher, said that this is the “new normal” and that residents of North Carolina could expect to see more ICE agents in their communities.
“ICE will now have no choice but to conduct more at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites, which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests instead of arrests at the jail where enforcement is safer for everyone involved,” Gallagher said.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group based in Milwaukee, said the best response to an increase in non-targeted raids is political mobilization.
People “need to engage local law enforcement and local government officials to pass policies that refuse to be used as an arm of immigration (enforcement),” she said.
The policy change implemented by Lucas and his deputies is in stark contrast to the Milwaukee County sheriff’s office when it was run by Sheriff David Clarke.
Clarke, a supporter of President Donald Trump and a conservative media favorite, cooperated with ICE and sought an agreement that would allow some jail employees to act as de facto immigration agents to assess whether inmates convicted of crimes were in the country illegally.
Lawsuits challenging lengthy detentions by local authorities based on a written request by ICE have been filed in more than half a dozen states, according to the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group.
Many counties have pulled out of the program after federal court rulings found that counties would be liable for damages for holding inmates beyond their release dates.
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