U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan on Monday threatened legal action against Immigration and Customs Enforcement if the agency does not turn over additional records related to a four-day enforcement surge in September that resulted in the arrests of 83 people in Wisconsin.
Pocan also signaled that the federal agency could be punished in the House appropriations process, a committee on which he serves.
The Democratic congressman, who represents Wisconsin's 2nd District, said he believes ICE deliberately lied to him and to Dane County law enforcement — where 20 people were detained — before and after the roundup occurred.
"There’s a saying that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, you baffle them with bull," Pocan told reporters in Madison. "I believe that’s what occurred with ICE on this request."
Pocan submitted a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act on Oct. 12 seeking information about the arrests including contact between ICE officials and local law enforcement, offenses committed by the detainees and where detainees were held. In total, Pocan asked six specific questions, two of which were not addressed in the agency's response.
The information provided in response to his other four questions, Pocan said, was incomplete. Of 411 pages sent by ICE to Pocan, 294 were redacted. Pocan said he thinks there were additional records responsive to his request, noting the two unanswered questions.
ICE fulfilled Pocan's request on Feb. 27.
Pocan said his first step will be to appeal the response, but he also said he will sue to get the information if necessary.
He noted that he serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees government expenditures.
"I think they intentionally tried to not give us the information and intentionally lied to local law enforcement," Pocan said. "I think we’ll have some conversations about that as we're appropriating the Homeland Security budget for ICE."
The documents released by ICE show that 39 of the individuals arrested had no documented criminal history.
In a news release announcing the arrests in September, ICE spokesman Ricardo Wong said the operation "targeted criminal aliens, public safety threats, and individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws." The agency said 44 of the 83 individuals who were arrested had prior criminal convictions. Of those who had convictions, charges included indecent exposure to a minor, domestic violence, driving under the influence, theft and illegal re-entry after deportation.
Both Pocan and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney reiterated frustrations that ICE did not give local law enforcement officials advance notice that officers would be active in the area. An ICE spokesman has said any suggestion that the agency did not notify local law enforcement about its activity is false.
Madison Assistant Police Chief Randy Gaber told the Cap Times in November that in the past, ICE officers have called him on his cell phone to notify him of their operations, specifying the individual, location and reasons for the arrest. This time, Gaber said, he received a call on his desk phone a few days before the arrests, with no specific information about the roundup.
Mahoney said ICE called him about a week before the arrests, asking how local dispatch worked, but didn’t give any indication that officers were on the way.
Instead of contacting Gaber on his cell phone during the September activity, ICE relayed its locations to Dane County dispatch in case a citizen called in a suspicious vehicle, Gaber said. The dispatch center is a standalone department managed by the county executive, Mahoney said. Its staff doesn’t answer to the sheriff or police chief and did not relay the information to the Madison Police Department until a lieutenant contacted dispatch to specifically request it.
Documents released in response to Pocan's request show ICE officials discussing the surge with law enforcement officials in other counties to arrange for assistance. Dane County was referenced in one email from an ICE officer who said the area contains a "radical population" that could be hostile toward ICE.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Police Chief Mike Koval have publicly reiterated Madison’s policy of not acting as an immigration authority, but its officers are directed to cooperate with ICE as they would with any government agency.
Mahoney previously told the Cap Times he has declined to participate in ICE “round-ups” or use the jail as a holding facility like Dodge and Kenosha Counties have. But he said that doesn't mean he would do anything to impede the agency's work.
"To say that Dane County or Madison or any of our other communities are radical and cannot be trusted is extremely false. We have never countered the mission of any federal agency, nor will we," Mahoney said.
Cap Times reporters Lisa Speckhard Pasque and Abigail Becker contributed to this report.