Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney says that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are stepping up their presence in the Madison area.
Mahoney said he was contacted weeks ago by an ICE officer who was recently assigned to Madison asking for his participation in the 287(g) program, which enlists local officers to assist the agency, part of a crackdown on immigration that has been a focus of President Donald Trump's administration.
Mahoney said he told the agent, “I’m not interested.”
“I have very important things to do in my community other than forcing my deputies to become ICE agents,” he said. “And more importantly, my task is to build relationships, not tear down relationships.”
Critics claim that the program has led to more racial profiling in other communities. ICE says the program makes the community safer, but Mahoney said it does the opposite.
“The real danger to that is you empower the predators who are preying on the non-documented who fear coming forward to law enforcement,” he said. “You empower the oppressors, you empower the predator, and then it becomes less safe for U.S. citizens because they become victims.”
Although the program offers needed funding, Mahoney said, "this isn’t generally a revenue generating business, or shouldn’t be."
So far, only one law enforcement agency in the state has signed on with the 287(g) program. In April, Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson announced that his department had been approved for the program, which trains deputies assigned to the jail to assist in identifying people who are in the country illegally.
The presence of an ICE officer in Madison has led to speculation that the agency is setting up a field office. But an ICE spokeswoman dismissed the term.
“There is not an ICE office in Madison,” said Nicole Alberico, a public affairs officer for ICE’s Chicago office, which covers Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin. “There’s an officer who covers the area but not an office. The ICE office in Milwaukee works cases for the Madison area.”
Alberico wouldn’t say how long the officer had been working in Madison, or if his presence signals a future increase in enforcement.
Mahoney said the officer works out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown Madison, just off the Capitol Square. He suggested that the agent may have been assigned because ICE officials “weren’t getting a lot of support out of law enforcement in this county.”
Mahoney and other law enforcement officials in the county have refused to cooperate with ICE, and Mahoney has rejected requests by ICE to hold people for 48 hours after they post bail or serve their sentences so ICE officials can arrange to detain them.
Mahoney said he considers the holds unconstitutional because there’s no legal basis for holding an inmate who has posted bail or completed a sentence.
“That’s a violation of Fourth Amendment search and seizure,” he said. “It’s a violation of 16th Amendment constitutional due process.”
While the jail doesn’t notify ICE of inmates’ immigration status, the agency can identify illegal immigrants through the FBI’s National Criminal Intelligence Center, which receives fingerprints obtained during the booking process.
Mahoney said ICE cautioned him that without his cooperation in detaining inmates, federal agents would be forced to hunt down offenders in the community, which poses unnecessary risks.
“My position is, you know that they’re here, if you want them, come sit in the lobby when they bail out,” he said. “If you want them, if you think you’ve got reason to arrest them, then arrest them.”
Although Mahoney said he won’t honor detainment requests, ICE still makes them. Alberico said ICE agents recently intended to request a detainer on a 26-year-old Middleton man after he posted bail, but he was released before one could be filed.
Jose Alberto Alonzo-Manzano was arrested earlier this month by town of Madison officers for a drunken driving offense, his third. He had been deported twice before, according to Alberico, and had re-entered the country illegally both times.
“He illegally re-entered the United States after both removals, which are felonies,” she said in an email.
He was detained on July 17 in Middleton and was taken to a detention facility in Dodge County.
It’s unclear whether the installation of an ICE agent in Madison means a more vigorous detention program.
Madison Police Department officials have “heard nothing about ICE doing anything in Madison,” said MPD spokesman Joel DeSpain.
Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, which serves the local Latino community, said she has heard no reports of raids.
“I'm not convinced ICE has increased activity,” she said in an email.
But based on ICE’s request to enlist his deputies to enforce federal immigration laws, Mahoney suspects that more enforcement is on the horizon.
“I think they’re trying to step up removals,” he said.