By Dan Colton
for The Beacon
Protestors turned out Friday July 10 near the Sheboygan County Courthouse to denounce Sheboygan County Sheriff Cory Roeseler’s decision to participate in a program that allows his deputies to facilitate the deportation process of undocumented inmates in custody in county jail.
Roeseler said the 287(g) program – overseen and administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE – will only affect serious or repeat offenders. He said minority communities won’t be targeted, and his deputies will only be used to speed up deportations of jail inmates instead of requiring ICE agents to travel in from outside the county.
Still, some critics and community members said the program poses a significant risk to the county’s undocumented residents and threatens to erode trust between law enforcement and immigrant populations.
Emily Soto, Sheboygan resident and an organizer of Friday’s protest, said she is concerned minorities and undocumented residents will be racially profiled as a result of the Sheriff Department’s participation in the ICE program. Soto was concerned the program may expand beyond the confines of the jail, and eventually, she is worried deputies may have the greater power to enforce immigration law on the streets as well, she said.
“In time, who knows that this (program) … won’t expand?” Soto said.
As news of the protest circulated prior to Friday, Roeseler issued a statement in response to the pushback.
“The Sheriff’s Office does not actively investigate immigration status, but those individuals who are arrested for allegedly committing serious offenses may attract the attention of Immigration and the Sheriff’s Office will work with Immigration just like we work with any other local, state or federal agency,” Roeseler’s July 8 statement reads.
But Soto and other protestors weren’t assuaged by Roeseler’s statement.
“(The sheriff) can put out as many statements as (he) wants, but we’ve lived this enough to understand abuse of power,” she said, adding that there are no guarantees 287(g) won’t be enforced against low-level offenders.
“I understand they want them out, the serious criminals,” Soto added. “But I’m also certain they will (target low-level offenders as well.)”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has also criticized Roeseler’s decision to assist ICE with the 287(g) program. Members of ACLU of Wisconsin attended the rally, including Tim Muth, ACLU staff attorney.
Muth said the sheriff’s department has no legal right to detain undocumented workers – according to Muth, a Wisconsin state statue is required to arrest or detain a subject, and he said there is no statute granting the sheriff’s department the authority to do so in ICE’s stead.
“Very simply, there is no requirement that a sheriff comply with ICE detainers,” Muth said, adding that multiple sheriff’s departments in Wisconsin have chosen not to comply with the detainers. “…Wisconsin wisely says you can only arrest someone if there is a Wisconsin statute to give you authority.”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Milwaukee-based Voces de la Fontera, said the program could be used as a tool or excuse to spread racial and cultural intolerance in the Sheboygan area.
“This is a program that needs to be abolished at the local level and is part of (President Donald) Trump’s agenda to breed hatred against immigrants,” Neumann-Ortiz said.
Not all protestors at Friday’s event were in opposition to 287(g) – one man, Jay Hoogstra, arrived as a counter-protestor.
Hoogstra said he believes any protest against the policy should occur in Madison, and he voiced concerns that protests in Sheboygan create safety issues over rioting and looting.
“I guess I have a different view on this. The sheriff is complying with federal laws. Why is the protest occurring here? I want to make certain that the citizens of this community are paying attention.”
About 40 people were congregated near the Sheboygan County Courthouse and the neighboring Sheboygan County Detention Center by 5 p.m. Friday. Organizers carried bullhorns and led the crowd in chants, both in English and Spanish.
Sheboygan resident Margarito Perez said the Latino and immigrant communities in Sheboygan and elsewhere are vital community contributors, including through taxation, but he said they are often left out or mistreated due to their nationality or immigration status.
According to the ICE website, six Wisconsin sheriff’s departments utilize the 287(g) program.