Voces de la Frontera and ICE Raids
Evaluating the Impact
Mario Garcia Sierra is one of the coordinators for Voces de la
Frontera’s efforts in Dane County.
By Jonathan Gramling

When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a massive raid across Wisconsin
the weekend of September 22nd, it took the immigrant community by surprise. While one often
heard about someone being picked up here and there and then assistance could be provided
through the available resources for immigrant assistance, the ntire immigration support network
was overwhelmed, including Voces de la Frontera, the statewide immigrant rights and support
network.

“I think the last couple of years during this new administration, we saw the raids pick up with
more detentions across the state,” said Mario Garcia Sierra, a member of the Madison Voces
organizing committee. “Dane County is no exception. We always heard from the families and
lawyers how busy they are because it looked like an increase in terms of detentions and
deportations. It was mostly one case here and one case there maybe a couple of times per month
and stuff like that. But for sure there have been more over the last year or so since the Obama
Administration.”

While ICE was looking for specific individuals, others got swept up in their operation.
“We know they were looking for 250 people supposedly if you believe their statement,” Sierra said. “That’s what they listed. They were targeting 250 people. But out
of that 250, they were able to arrest 43 people. But at least half of the people who were picked up were not part of their 250 people. They said the other people were at
the wrong place at the wrong time. But I don’t think that was true because people were just going about their day. Some people were still asleep in their homes in the
morning when they were interrupted by ICE. Someone let them in the home. Other people may have been in their parking lot coming to their homes or apartment
buildings when they were approached by ICE. It’s so tricky because if you don’t cooperate, they can detain you. And if you cooperate, they can detain you because you
provided information.”

While they may have gone to people’s homes to find a specific person, they would take anyone who fit the bill in terms of lack of residency papers.

“Some of the people who were detained from the knocks on the doors were not on the list,” Sierra said. “Sometimes they don’t have the most updated information, so
they go to a home looking for John Brown, but John Brown doesn’t live there anymore. John Smith lives there and maybe the first though is to think that John Smith is
hiding John Brown or John Smith knows where he is. That’s when they will inquire about John Smith’s status, what he is doing there and where he is from. And as
soon as he discloses that he is in the U.S. without documents, that’s when they can detain him even though he doesn’t have a criminal record.”

And they are apt to take individuals, whether they are criminals or not.

“That’s something that has also changed during this administration, how they define criminal,” Sierra said. “In this administration, criminal can be somebody who
has a misdemeanor. That can be you driving without a driver’s license a couple of times. That can make you a criminal. If you for some reason got a ticket for
disorderly conduct — and we know that there is a lot of gray area there — in the minds of ICE, that is a criminal act. So it’s no longer only the people who have
committed horrendous crimes. It’s people who made a mistake that you would think is not a big deal.”

These kinds of raids can leave shattered lives and communities behind for the people taken did not live in a vacuum.

“I don’t know specifically how many of the 83 people detained were breadwinners, but I would think that the majority of them are breadwinners,” Sierra said. “And
that’s a whole another layer of that. The aftermath of that is pretty bad for the families. I think most of them have kids. Who is going to provide for the kids? Who is
going to take care of them? That’s a pretty bad aftermath. And most of these kids are U.S. citizens. They were born here in Wisconsin and raised here in Wisconsin.
This is the only place that they know.”

And the kids’ lives are shattered and that has serious repercussions.

“Kids are not able to do well in school because they have that stress and anxiety,” Sierra said. “You just don’t expect a kid under those circumstances to do well in
the school. And that just is not good for everyone in this community.”

And it also shatters the good relations that local law enforcement has cultivated with the local immigrant communities.

“They mislead people because they identify themselves sometimes as police,” Sierra said. “And here in Madison, we have good, open communication with the
police department. We always tell people, ‘You can feel free to cooperate with the police.’ But when someone knocks on your door and they say they are the police
and then you wonder if something is wrong and you want to help, you open the door. But now, we’re just telling people, ‘You have to make sure that you know who is
behind the door. Whatever you have to do, whenever you open the door, ICE is not going to be on that end.’ It’s so easy to say it, but at that moment, people get
nervous and forget things.”

Voces de la Frontera and others are trying to deal with the aftermath of these raids as best they can, given their limited resources and reach.

“It is difficult to get legal representation for everyone,” Sierra emphasized. “For example, there were some people from Arcadia. We don’t have much of a presence
there. There are other cities where we just don’t have much of a presence. And there just isn’t the same support network that we have here in Dane County and
Milwaukee. I think it depends on the case that Voces might be
able to help the detainees get legal representation. They are
doing their best out of Milwaukee to see what support they can
provide. Voces has a chapter in Green Bay. There were a few
people who were detained there. The members there have
been really busy trying to coordinate with other cities that are
close to them.”

Voces expects the massive raids to continue in the future and
is working with its allies and partners to be better prepared the
next time it happens. “We know that next time, we have to
react faster,” Sierra said. “It took us at east a day to react. We
put together a quick press conference on Friday at 4 p.m. when
they had been in the area since Thursday night. Next time, we
need to be faster. We are discussing our processes in the roles
of each organization to make sure that next time, we are
better prepared. For sure, right now, the work is to make sure
that people understand their rights and they are able to
exercise those rights when they face an
immigration agent, for example, their rights when opening the
door.”

Knowing one’s rights is extremely important because it is quite
possible that no one else will be looking out for them.

“If they ask for your status, you have the right to remain silent,”
Sierra said. “We tell people that you can tell them your name
and your address. Any other questions, you just have to
exercise your right to remain silent. You have to let them know
that you know your rights because they can be pretty
aggressive and try to intimidate you and trick you out of your
rights. That was the case with one person. We heard that he
was told, ‘If you sign this paper, we’ll give you an attorney.’ The
person wasn’t able to read what the paper stated. But basically,
he signed his own deportation order.”

Voces de la Frontera meets every other Sunday, 2-4 p.m., at
Centro Hispano and anyone interested in aided the cause is
welcome.  For more information, email Mario
Garcia Sierra at
marios.sierra@gmail.com.