Throughout 2020, multiple county sheriffs in Wisconsin decided to sign formal collaboration agreements with federal immigration authorities. Their decision to use local resources to assist on federal immigration tasks only serves to divide communities and drive immigrants in Wisconsin into the shadows. The ACLU is urging both the Biden administration and local officials to end the use of such agreements.  

A 2021 report from the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviews arrangements that Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) have made with local law enforcement agencies. Although no neighboring states have any of these arrangements, in Wisconsin, 8 local sheriffs have signed these agreements, seven of them for the first time in 2020. 

These agreements, known as 287(g) agreements due to their creation by section 287(g)  of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act, delegate certain immigration enforcement responsibilities to state and local law enforcement. Their use was dramatically expanded during the Trump administration. Two forms of these agreements are currently being utilized by ICE -- jail model agreements and warrant service officer (WSO) agreements.

The jail model of 287(g) agreements delegates certain immigration law enforcement responsibilities to local sheriff deputies within jails, such as interrogating people about their immigration status following their arrest on state or local charges, checking their information in the Department of Homeland Security databases, issuing detainers to hold people on civil immigration charges and issuing the charging document that initiates a deportation called a Notice to Appear.  

The Trump administration devised the WSO program, a new form of 287(g) agreement, to authorize local law enforcement agents to serve and take custody of immigrants under immigration detainers. With a detainer, ICE asks local law enforcement to keep custody of a person for up to 48 hours after there is no basis under state law to detain them. The WSO program works to obscure local law enforcement’s risk of liability for Fourth Amendment violations from honoring detainers. 

The 287(g) agreements and other ICE collaboration programs risk emboldening police to engage in racial profiling. Local police in 287(g) jurisdictions may make stops and arrests as a pretext for engaging in immigration enforcement. For example, they might arrest a driver and take the driver to jail, instead of simply issuing a ticket, based on the driver’s perceived race or immigration status. The cooperation agreements with ICE embolden racist and xenophobic law enforcement officers across the country to use immigration enforcement as a means of threatening and harassing people in immigrant communities.

The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department was the first department in Wisconsin to enter a 287(g) agreement with ICE and is the only one to sign a jail model agreement.  Particularly troubling was this statement by the sheriff in the cover letter to his application:

“The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office is willing, prepared and committed to assist in [ICE’s] effort to investigate, apprehend and detain aliens pursuant to the statutes….My office and staff will make this program a priority in our jail and welcome additional ICE partnerships.”

Although large swaths of the local community objected, Waukesha Sheriff Eric Severson proceeded forward and signed the 287(g) agreement with ICE on February 16, 2018, and renewed it on July 1, 2020.   

The next Sheriff in Wisconsin to sign a 287(g) agreement was in Sheboygan County, where the Sheriff signed a new WSO agreement referring to it as a “partnership” with ICE. Documents disclosed to the ACLU of Wisconsin in response to open records requests showed that the Sheboygan sheriff then encouraged other sheriffs to sign the agreements. 

Other contracts have come out of ICE participation in statewide conferences of Wisconsin sheriffs. During the course of 2020, sheriffs in Brown, Fond du Lac, Lafayette, Manitowoc, Marquette, and Waushara counties also signed WSO agreements.

Interactions with local law enforcement have been the primary way that immigrants living in Wisconsin get placed into the deportation pipeline. In the period 2007-2020, ICE sought to deport more than 12,000 immigrants living in Wisconsin after picking them up from jails and prisons across the state. 

In January 2021, a coalition of 25 organizations in Wisconsin wrote to Secretary of DHS Alejandro Mayorkas, urging that he terminate 287(g) and WSO agreements in the state and nationwide. In February, 60 members of Congress sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to end the use of 287(g) agreements and immigration detainers.  

The ACLU of Wisconsin has also urged local sheriffs not to enter into more of these agreements and to pull out of the existing agreements which allow termination at any time. In many counties, the agreements themselves were entered into without any input from the local community. In fact, none of these agreements were approved by county boards or publicly acknowledged by these Sheriff’s Departments until the ACLU of Wisconsin disclosed their existence.

 The business of immigration enforcement is a federal, not a local law enforcement, priority.  Local sheriffs who prioritize collaborating with ICE place a wedge between themselves and the immigrant members of their community. Victims and witnesses become fearful to report crimes or talk to law enforcement agents who view themselves as partners to immigration authorities.

The federal government does not compensate local authorities for participating in these agreements other than travel expenses for training, and instead precious local resources are used for what is a federal enforcement task. 

None of Wisconsin’s neighboring states have found such agreements with ICE justified.  The reality is these agreements make our communities not only less welcoming to immigrants, but also make us all less safe. As a result, local Wisconsin law enforcement should walk away from ICE collaboration programs.