It’s obviously nice to not worry about my husband’s immigration status anymore, but frankly I was never very worried about it even when he sans green card. I met a lot of undocumented immigrants as a restaurant manager and have never heard of someone being deported from Milwaukee. On a number of occasions I’ve witnessed that the Milwaukee Police Department appears to have a “don’t ask” policy toward inquiring on an individual’s immigration status, and I’ve personally encouraged my in-laws and undocumented friends to go forward when they have information on criminal matters, or worse, have been victim to a crime. All the officer teams on the south side seem to consist of at least one bilingual officer, and I have never witnessed even an iota of threat regarding one’s immigration status.
Last year my brother-in-law and a friend were on their way into work at the Mexican grocer in the heart of Milwaukee’s immigrant community when two white, presumably American males accosted them and demanded their wallets, with a gun. Thankfully nothing tragic happened, but that evening, back at home, as they told me the story I wanted to know what the police had said. Surprised at the question, my brother-in-law responded that they hadn’t called the police. He stated that the owner of the store did not want “escandalo” (scandal) and had discouraged him from calling, which made me really angry, and I told my brother-in-law that the store owner had no right to prevent an individual from reporting a crime. Beyond that concern, however, my brother-in-law had wondered if the police would “charge” him something for the report and investigation. This assumption was more than a mild shock to my cultural norms, but as I thought about how commonplace it is for Mexican police to demand bribes for any small matter, I realized his train of thought.
After a lot of pushing and me calling the police department to explain the situation, my brother-in-law did talk to the police. Apparently, petty crimes were happening nearly every day outside the store, and when I spoke to the police department they were also surprised that nothing was being reported. I was no longer surprised at that point, and realized that immigrant neighborhoods are indeed an easy target for criminals, as they know the immigrants are too scared to talk to the police. In my mind,the best way to fight this was to get the word out that it was okay to talk to the police. We got the business card of one of the bilingual officers and posted the police non-emergency number on our fridge.
I had a long talk with my relatives about the roles of the police and of immigration, explaining that indeed there was not cooperation unless a felon was found to be undocumented, etc. These days, I wouldn’t say that so quickly, but apparently new Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn plans to keep the MPD police of not inquiring on immigration status the same. I’m sure some people find this problematic, but as reported by UWM’s Frontpage Milwaukee:
“The newly selected chief was asked if he would repeal or continue on with a policy through which Milwaukee officers are ‘prohibited from informing federal immigration officials of the whereabouts or behavior of any suspected illegal immigrants or foreign visitors in some cases.’
‘Seems reasonable to me,’ said Flynn, after being read the details of the policy. ‘What I know is there are 33,000 [ICE] beds, 12 million [undocumented people here]. I want those beds reserved for violent felons.’”
A few weeks later, speaking in front of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board, Flynn stated:
“This (immigration) is a demagogue issue. . . . There is a sense out there that there is some simple solution. I think all of you know the following rule of thumb: For every complicated problem, there is a simple solution that’s wrong.”
Thank you Mr. Flynn. I like your style. In my mind, this approach takes the whole picture into account, realizing that it’s impossible to build ties in a neighborhood if you alienate and threaten say, half its residents.
Like I said above, I haven’t witnessed anything, even in the last few months (besides the federally mandated driver’s license changes) that has suggested to me that Milwaukee is becoming a more difficult place for undocumented immigrants to live, but it had crossed my mind several times that Flynn could be ushering in a new, more Orwellian era. I’m so glad to know he’s strongly in favor of the same approach.
I want to know I can call the police to our house without worrying and keep encouraging anyone who is a victim or a witness to be a good resident, by reporting crimes and speaking out against injustice. I want to be confident that I live in a city that is concerned about fighting crime and not preoccupied with reacting to an angry minority who believes it is a heinous crime to seek a better life for one’s family. Yes, I realize there is some level of illegality in entering the U.S. without inspection and working without documentation, but by and large we are talking about expelling millions of hard-working, law-abiding people from our country who just want to work and raise their families and in many cases, contribute to our already diverse and vibrant culture. The Milwaukee police department has plenty of things to worry about without contacting immigration. Driving out the community who has revitalized a once dwindling south side is not the answer.