June 24, Milwaukee — Activists led by “Youth Empowered in the Struggle” shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in downtown here, June 19. At 6 a.m., 10 activists chained their arms together through PVC piping and sat in front of the building’s garage doors to block ICE vehicles from leaving to arrest more people.
Recently, the immigration raids have started somewhere between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. About 100 people rallied in support of the chained-together activists, in front of the garage doors.
This action was primarily in response to a large-scale sweep conducted by ICE in partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department on May 27, which resulted in the arrest of 22 people from their homes and workplaces. Over the last month a total of 49 people have been arrested in Milwaukee for being undocumented.
“We will defend our community as long as ICE keeps attacking us and until [President Barack] Obama grants deferred action for all,” said Oscar Hernandez, who was one of the 10 activists chained together.
Two of the activists were family members of one of the men arrested on May 27. The 11-year-old girl saw her father being taken away by ICE agents as he had been preparing the car to take her and her two sisters to school.
Activists chanted, “Undocumented and unafraid!” and “MPD shame on you, immigrants are people too!” as morning traffic began to flow through downtown. Though police threatened to arrest the chained activists, they backed off and watched the rally, which lasted over three hours.
Immigration raids are conducted through the “secure communities” program, a partnership between local law enforcement agencies and ICE. A recent analysis of the program showed that the majority of people being targeted and detained are not criminals, with their most serious criminal offense being the misdemeanor of entering the country illegally.
Immigration raids — or sweeps — have been happening across the country, including in other major urban areas like New Orleans and Phoenix, as well as rural communities. A daily bed quota is set at 34,000 people being in detention and at some level of the deportation process. Many people are being held in for-profit prisons that exploit them as cheap labor while they wait to be deported.
This daily quota has been defended by the Obama administration, which has overseen the most deportations of any U.S. president, between 2 million and 2.5 million since he took office. As President Obama stalls on immigration reform, thousands of families and communities are being ripped apart.
Activists in Milwaukee will continue to fight against deportations, sending the Obama administration a strong message that it must take action now.