Blog Archive

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More illegal immigrants being deported for lesser offenses, advocate says

By Georgia Pabst
Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
July 11, 2010

Rogelio Calderon-Gonzalez and two friends were going to play soccer last October when Greenfield police stopped the driver of the car.

The driver and the two other passengers, including Calderon-Gonzalez, were asked for identification so police could run a check.

Calderon-Gonzalez, 27, was told there was an outstanding warrant for operating a vehicle without a license, so he was taken into custody and booked into the Milwaukee County Jail.

Later he was questioned by immigration officials. He now faces deportation back to Mexico.

A review of court records shows the warrant appears to date back to 2005. Sitting in the upstairs of the duplex he shares with his girlfriend and their 10-month-old daughter, he said he thought that matter had been settled long ago.

"I don't know why there was a warrant," he said.

Calderon-Gonzalez came to the United States illegally at age 16. Since then he's worked in restaurants and other low-paying jobs. He's always known that he could face deportation.

He doesn't smoke or do drugs and hasn't committed any crimes, said Iliama Santos, his girlfriend. And although he's been stopped for traffic violations since 2005, his immigration status never came up, he said.

But these days Calderon-Gonzalez and many other illegal immigrants find themselves in deportation proceedings for traffic and various other infractions, says Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, a low-wage worker and immigrant advocacy group.

"In the past few years, we have seen a disturbing trend of escalated arrests of non-criminal immigrants who, through collaboration of local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), end up in deportation proceedings," she wrote in a letter to Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway and other county supervisors.

Voces has "documented dozens of cases in the past 12 months in which immigrants, arrested for traffic violations or crime for which they were later found innocent, are now facing deportation," she wrote.

There also are increasing concerns about civil and labor rights violations, as well as racial profiling, she wrote.

Voces asked the Milwaukee County Board to start a formal investigation of the collaboration between ICE and the Sheriff's Department.

She was joined in the request for the investigation by the Milwaukee Commission on Community Police Relations immigration and racial profiling task force, which includes the NAACP, Islamic Society, the Council for the Spanish Speaking and the Sherman Park Association.

The request is scheduled to be on the agenda for the next meeting of the County Board's Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee at 9 a.m. Thursday.

While ICE targets illegal immigrants who are a threat to public safety and the more severe criminals as its highest priority for deportation, other illegal immigrants who have been arrested may be deported as well, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE.

In fiscal year 2009, ICE deported 387,790 illegal immigrants, he said. Of those 136,116 had criminal convictions, he said. One reason deportations have increased in recent years is because of "increased efficiencies," more publicity and more information to local law enforcement about the criminal alien program, he said.

Voces also has written a separate open records request to Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. asking for records on policies, practices of the department related to the citizenship or immigration status, national origin, or places of birth of individuals held in the department's custody and its cooperation with ICE and funding received.

"My role in this thing is to enforce the law and not make subjective decisions," said Clarke. "We work and cooperate with all law enforcement in sharing information."

He explained that ICE has access to the names of everyone booked into the jail - the same information that's available to the public and the media. He said everyone who is arrested and booked is asked for name, date of birth, place of birth, Social Security number and biographical data.

"We don't investigate (the immigration status), we just collect the information," he said.

"For someone to suggest we shouldn't allow another law enforcement agency access to our information is ridiculous, but it happens," he said.

He added: "I believe, based on things going on around the country concerning immigration, passion and emotion now have replaced logic and reason."

Under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, the Sheriff's Department receives money to help offset spending related to incarcerating undocumented immigrants. Last year that amount was about $135,000; the year before that it was about $60,000, Clarke said.

The funding goes back about five years, Clarke said.