ICE must be transparent about arrests

September 27, 2018

When local police take someone into custody, that person’s name and the reason for any arrest quickly become public.

Transparency builds trust in law enforcement and lets people assess police actions with facts about what happened and why.

The same should be true when ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, handcuffs and hauls away someone in Wisconsin.

ICE didn’t do itself or our community any favors during the last week by operating largely in secret here. Enforcing the law is expected and appreciated. But hiding information for days about which laws are supposedly being enforced and against whom only breeds suspicion.

It also needlessly frightens countless families across Wisconsin who may have loved ones who don’t legally reside in the country. Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants contribute to our economy and civic life in significant ways. They milk Wisconsin dairy cows. They build Wisconsin machinery. They fill crucial jobs and start businesses after graduating from our universities.

We need them, given a labor shortage that’s only getting worse as Wisconsin’s graying population continues to age.

Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group in Milwaukee, tallied more than 30 arrests by ICE across Wisconsin over the last week in Dane County, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Arcadia, which is north of La Crosse.

The Wisconsin State Journal and other media, on behalf of the public, couldn’t find out from ICE what its agents were doing for nearly a week. Neither could local police, who said ICE had violated an agreement to share information. Neither could Madison’s mayor or congressman.

That’s unacceptable.

Voces de la Frontera said ICE targeted some immigrants for merely violating traffic laws. ICE finally responded to a slew of public inquiries Tuesday, saying it arrested 83 “criminal aliens and immigration violators” in 14 counties. ICE says 44 had criminal convictions, 16 had no criminal records, and 21 reentered the United States after being deported.

The belated information was too little, too late.

When police agencies seize people in a democracy, the public gets to know when, where and why. Leaving communities in the dark for days on end badly damaged ICE’s credibility and discouraged immigrant communities from cooperating with local police.

Public opinion across Wisconsin strongly favors immigrants getting a fair shot at the American dream. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the latest statewide poll said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay here and eventually apply for citizenship. Fifteen percent said they should be able to stay as guest workers. Only 14 percent wanted to force them to leave.

ICE must be transparent if it wants the public to trust and respect its work.

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