Immigrant communities across 14 counties in Wisconsin were left reeling after roughly 34 undocumented individuals were swept up in what appeared to be seemingly random raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Wisconsin-based immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera said Monday that over the weekend, ICE arrested 11 people in the Madison area, 15 people in Arcadia, three people in Milwaukee and six in Green Bay.
The arrests were made at workplaces, during traffic stops, and even in their own homes. Some members of the Wisconsin immigrant community reported that ICE agents falsely presented themselves as police officers.
Erick Gamboa Chay and his family were getting ready for the day when ICE agents banged on the door of his Milwaukee home, claiming to be the police, and arrested Chay for previously driving without a license. ICE has denied him bond.
Chay’s three children, ages 8,4, and 1, hid in the attic and cried as their father was taken away. They are currently staying with a member of their extended family.
“Now my uncle’s kids keep asking when their dad is going to come back. His youngest son has sickle cell anemia and requires constant care,” Giselle Vera, Chay’s niece, told Voces de la Frontera. “His wife cannot work outside the home because she cares for him and the other two children. This is devastating to his kids and to our family.”
She added, “The middle son is like, ‘So when is he going to come back? When are they going to bring him back? And how do you answer that question when we don’t even know what’s going to happen?”
In Green Bay, ICE arrested six individuals, including a father of eight children and a father preparing for his children’s baptism.
While ICE did not comment on the details of who was arrested and what charges they face, the agency says those arrested “pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”
Jesús Enciso was detained by ICE near Madison on his way to work with his son and four coworkers.
“On Friday morning, my husband was driving to work with our son and four coworkers,” Angela Betancourt, Enciso’s wife of 29 years, told Voces de la Frontera. “My son was driving because he has a license. Agents in two cars pulled them over, made everyone get out and asked for all their documents. They took away the five men including my husband. I don’t know why ICE would detain him. He is a hard worker, he provides for our family. We have not been able to communicate with him. We are very sad and we need him here with us.”
Law enforcement officials from both cities condemned ICE for detaining immigrants without first communicating with local authorities. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval told local media that the department has an agreement with ICE to know when and where arrests are made. Similarly, Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith stated that, in the past, ICE has alerted police when they’ve planned an operation, and sometimes even asked for assistance, but this time, there was nothing.
“Whether it is a targeted activity or a raid, an ICE failure of communication only heightens fear in the community and poses a great danger to all parties, including the targeted individuals and their families, ICE agents, and local law enforcement,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin at a Sunday press conference.
While city officials and law enforcement have held community meetings in the wake of the raids to calm fears of arrests and answer questions, local businesses and schools have taken a hit.
Madison station WKOW confirmed that at least one local business closed Monday because employees did not show up. The Tipsy Cow restaurant in Madison also posted a notice on its door Monday that read, “Tipsy Cow will be closed due to the current pressure on the Latino community. We will reopen as soon as we can.”
The Madison Metropolitan School District has since sent out a letter of support to parents, ensuring them their children were safe at school, but acknowledging parents’s concerns and wishes to keep their children home.
“We will always work to ensure our schools are safe, but we also want families to know that we support you in your decision making to keep you and your family safe,” district spokesperson Rachel Strauch-Nelson wrote. “Parents can call their school office to excuse their child from school if needed.”
Wisconsin joins other other states affected by a string of concerning ICE raids. In early August, 130 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Nebraska and Minnesota during mass workplace raids. The town of O’Neill, Nebraska, where one of the raids was conducted, has a population of just over 3,000. O’Neill Public School superintendent Amy Shane told the Washington Post she suspects anywhere between 50 to 100 children in her district may have been separated from a relative or immediate family member as a result, given how many town residents were employed by the business.
At the time, the raid was described as the largest in the history of the Department of Homeland Security. One month later, a raid in Texas beat out Nebraska for that unfortunate title, after 159 undocumented workers were arrested at a trailer manufacturing plant. Many of them had no criminal history.
On June 5, immigration officials similarly raided a gardening shop in Ohio, arresting 114 workers in the process. That action was preceded by one on April 5, at a rural meatpacking plant in Tennessee, where 94 workers were arrested.
The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has emboldened ICE to ramp up its operations over the past year, with federal arrests of non-criminal immigrants tripling during Trump’s first 14 months in office.
Even with those numbers, ICE appears to be having difficulty keeping up with Trump’s deportation and anti-immigration demands, and is increasingly turning to more troubling practices. Recently, the agency started going after the sponsors and family members who volunteered to take in unaccompanied minors for being undocumented themselves, leaving immigrant children in a cycle of indefinite detention.