Milwaukee Police Face Backlash After Helping ICE Agents Arrest Father In Front Of Children: 'We Didn't Even Have A Chance To Say Goodbye'

The moment that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Jose Alejandro De la Cruz-Espinoza, a father of three, in front of his family with the help of Milwaukee police is difficult to make out in video posted online by his wife.

The image is blurry and the camera shakes as Kristine De la Cruz anxiously follows her husband out of their family car.

The clearest thing in the video, however, might be the most important: the sound of the impact that ICE's arrests can have on the families they target, as the gut-wrenching screams of De la Cruz-Espinoza's daughters can be heard ringing out.

Video of Alex being arrested illegally this morning. A Milwaukee Police Officer reached in my car and unlocked the doors without a warrant.

Posted by Kristine De la Cruz on Monday, September 23, 2019

According to Voces de la Frontera, an immigration advocacy group in Milwaukee, De la Cruz-Espinoza, who goes by "Alex," had been sitting in his family car with his wife and three young daughters when he was "torn from his family" by ICE.

The family had been parked just outside their home when ICE agents and officers of the Milwaukee Police Department arrived.

Fearing the worst, the family called Voces de la Frontera's hotline, which was set up to help those targeted by ICE.

In most cases, immigration advocates tell families not to open their doors to ICE and to demand to see a warrant.

In this case, however, that approach did not work, with De la Cruz writing in a Facebook post that a Milwaukee police officer had "reached in my car and unlocked the doors without a warrant".

Speaking to Voces de la Frontera on the day of her husband's arrest, De la Cruz said her daughters were "physically dragged" out of the car, while ICE "did not provide a search warrant".

"They terrorized my family," she said.

Meanwhile, one of her daughters, still sobbing, told the immigration advocacy group that "they wouldn't let me hug my father".

In a separate social media post, De la Cruz said an ICE agent had even gone so far as to push her daughter away while she tried to hug her father goodbye.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, ICE spokesperson Nicole Alberico confirmed the arrest, asserting that De la Cruz-Espinosa had been "illegally present in the U.S." with a "criminal history that includes several criminal offenses in Wisconsin's Brown and Marathon counties."

It is unclear what those criminal offenses are. Newsweek has followed up with ICE for more information.
"As ICE officers were effecting this arrest, De la Cruz-Espinosa was uncooperative and refused to exit his vehicle or follow lawfully issued commands," Alberico said. "After some time, De la Cruz-Espinosa complied with officers. Ultimately, ICE officers arrested De la Cruz as he was stepping out of the car."

According to the ICE spokesperson, the father of three remains in ICE custody "pending the disposition of his immigration case".

The family and Voces de la Frontera were not only left devastated by the ICE arrest, however, but also by the Milwaukee Police Department's participation in it.

"This is evidence that Milwaukee Police Department is collaborating with ICE," Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera said in a statement published online.

"If MPD collaborates with ICE in this environment, when the Trump administration is escalating its attacks on immigrant and refugee families, it only undermines confidence and trust in reaching out to local law enforcement when they need to," Neumann-Ortiz said.

On Thursday, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Standards and Policy Committee is expected to vote on a measure to strengthen efforts for "non-collaboration" with ICE, SOP130.

While law enforcement departments across the country have vowed not to work with the agency, many out of fear of undermining community trust in policing, the Milwaukee police department has been accused of maintaining a murky stance on ICE collaboration.

While the department's operating procedures state that MPD does not "unilaterally undertake immigration-related investigations and does not routinely inquire into the immigration status of persons encountered during police operations," it also says that "does not preclude the department from cooperating with federal immigration officials when requested, or from notifying those officials in serious situations where a potential threat to the public is perceived."

There is no indication that De la Cruz-Espinoza posed any threat to his community.

If enacted, SOP130 would help to ensure that the Milwaukee police department does not play a proactive role in ICE arrests, as officers appear to have done in Monday's arrest.

If Milwaukee's Fire & Police Commission's members care about building community trust, Neumann-Oritz said, they will "vote to strengthen MPD policy against ICE collaboration" on Thursday.

"This fear and mistrust of local law enforcement extends to children in these households who are living through a deportation of a parent or a raid," Neumann-Ortiz said. "This is why the Fire & Police Commission members must vote to strengthen MPD policy against ICE collaboration."

In a statement provided to Voces de la Frontera, Melissa Soberalski, an immigration attorney working with the De la Cruz family, agreed, warning that local police departments' collaboration with ICE could have a "chilling effect" on community members' willingness to reach out to police for help.

"As a lawyer that works with victims of crime such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, trafficking, and other forms of violence, it's essential that these individuals feel safe to report crimes to authorities and have access to pathways for protections," Soberalski said. "There needs to be a protocol change within the Milwaukee Police Department because they're not doing what they're saying they're doing."

While Thursday's vote could help protect families targeted by ICE in the future, for De la Cruz's family, any measure ending police collaboration with the agency will come too late.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement sent to Newsweek by ICE,the agency's Chicago Field Office Director Robert Guadian accused local advocacy groups of sharing "inaccurate and misleading information" about the arrest.

"To be absolutely clear, U.S. immigration law provides ICE officers the authority to arrest aliens without a judicial warrant. Falsehoods advocated by individuals and groups with their own agenda widely spreads misinformation and may inspire some to violence," he said.

While ICE officers are able to conduct arrests with administrative warrants, which are not signed by a judge, those targeted by ICE are not required to open their door to agents if they show up at their homes.

On the support ICE received from the Milwaukee Police Department, Guadian said the agency appreciated local officers' "quick response in this situation."

"To be clear, ICE does not ask local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law," Guadian said. "ICE called for MPD assistance, as we would any local law enforcement agency, when the situation appeared to escalate to ensure the safety of everyone involved."

A GoFundMe campaign started by De la Cruz to help her family cover immediate needs, as well as the cost of an immigration lawyer, has so far raised more than $2,600 as of Wednesday morning.

"Our family was [harassed], traumatized, and torn apart as the Milwaukee Police Department collaborated with ICE which [led] to the detention of my husband Jose Alejandro (Alex) De la Cruz- Espinoza. There was no warrant present at any time," De la Cruz wrote on the GoFundMe page.

"Alex was the sole financial provider for our family," she said. "All I can focus is on my immediate needs, providing for my daughters, and keeping my family together. This is a very difficult moment for us, emotionally and financially. I just spent the last $15 I had on gas."

Her husband, she said, "worked hard and loved his family and three daughters. He was working on getting citizenship and doing right in life.

"We didn't even have a chance to say goodbye, or give him one last hug."

The Milwaukee Police Department has not immediately responded to a request for comment from Newsweek for this article.

This article has been updated with statements from ICE.

Immigration arrest
Federal immigration agents prepare for an arrest at a home in Brentwood, New York on March 29, 2018.