All over the United States, formal collaboration between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement under ICE ACCESS programs has deputized local law enforcement agents to enforce federal immigration law. Although no such agreements currently exist in the state of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office has been collaborating with ICE. The result has been a significant increase (46 percent from 2007 to 2008) in the number of detained and then deported immigrants picked up on minor traffic violations in the county. The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors heard testimony on this issue at their July 2010 meeting. Unfortunately, they sided with the sheriff’s department and decided not to pursue an intensive investigation. Local community organizations continue to advocate for an end to this collaboration. Rethinking Schools Editorial Associate Melissa Bollow Tempel gave the following testimony at the meeting:
I am a bilingual teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. Over the years, I have seen many students deal with deportation. People ask me, “How does deportation affect children?” The question I’d like to pose today is “How doesn’t deportation affect children?”
This year I had a student in my 1st-grade class. I’ll call her Elena. She was a natural leader in the classroom and spoke both English and Spanish fluently. She was well liked by her classmates and a natural leader, always organizing games on the playground during recess. Elena’s father was a model dad, the kind who worked hard and spent his free time with his family and his church. Every day he’d pick up his children from school. When Elena saw him approaching the school she’d yell, “Papi!” and run to him. They’d share a big hug and then he’d take her hand and the hand of her little sister and they’d walk home together. He helped Elena complete her homework—she is a very bright little girl—and read to her.
Elena’s mother came to my classroom one morning and asked me if I could write a letter of support to the judge who would try her husband’s deportation case. She told me that Elena’s father, the father of her four children, had gone to work and never returned. She learned later that ICE had taken him into custody. Although she is a U.S. citizen, he was not allowed to return home while awaiting his trial. Of course, I wrote the letter for her, as did the teachers of Elena’s siblings, but it did no good. Elena didn’t see her father again and eventually he was deported. My own daughter was in 1st grade this year and I couldn’t even allow myself to think about the severe impact that losing her father would have had on her.