As the 20 undocumented immigrants who were arrested on criminal charges in Madison await their day in court, immigration policy activists are voicing concern about the social implications of touting such community operations.
In the two-day operation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 20 people were arrested, including three females and 17 males from Mexico, Argentina, Honduras, Laos and Peru.
Gail Montenegro, spokesperson for the Milwaukee branch of ICE, said in an email to The Badger Herald the recent arrests are part of ICE’s ongoing initiatives nationwide to target its resources on convicted criminals.
The arrests this past weekend occurred at the convicted immigrants’ residencies and places of employment, Montenegro said.
Montenegro said the six were convicted with multiple deportation orders against them and the one who was previously deported may be removed in the span of a week or two since they are not entitled to another hearing in immigration court. The other 13 will likely remain in ICE custody pending a hearing before an immigration judge in federal immigration court in Chicago, she said.
ICE has conducted similar operations in the Madison area in the past. In December 2012, 17 convicted criminal undocumented immigrants were arrested during a three-day operation in the Madison area, according to an ICE statement.
“ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement by implementing the following removal priorities: convicted criminals, those who re-entered the United States after having been previously removed and those who have outstanding deportation orders,” Montenegro said.
University of Wisconsin communication arts professor Karma Chávez, an expert in immigration policy, said she is concerned about the perception about immigrant criminality that becomes prevalent after operations such as these are more widely reported than non-criminal deportations.
“Right-wing forces, the mainstream media and immigration officials in this country have worked very hard, contemporarily and historically, to create a strong relationship between immigration and criminality,” Chávez said.
Chávez said the frequency of reports on criminal deportations as opposed to the non-criminal cases is “absolutely designed” to put out a belief that immigrants are criminals and should be worried about for this reason.
Chávez said the ICE and Border Patrol frequently post on Twitter about cases in which they remove undocumented criminals but fail to post the stories about the families they divide through deportation.
“They never talk about, ‘We arrested a mother and her two children, now we’re going to put the two children in foster care and deport the mother.’ They never report that, which is the vast majority of the people they end up detaining and deporting, but they always report anytime someone was a rapist or robber,” Chávez said.
Chávez said the Dane County Sheriff’s Office participates in the Secure Communities Program, a federal program with the goal of gaining the collaboration of local law enforcement throughout the country to create a database of suspected undocumented immigrants.
“Racial profiling has always been a part of U.S. Immigration policy, and we see it in extreme cases like Arizona,” Chávez said. “People go to parts of town where they know immigrants live. How do they know? Because they have an idea in their head of what immigrants look like and sound like.”