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Immigration Rights Group Says Nearly 30 Detained By ICE

11 Of Those Detained In The Madison Area

Gissell Vera speaks at a press conference at Centro Hispano
Gissell Vera, who’s uncle was one of those arrested by ICE in Milwaukee, speaks at a press conference at Centro Hispano in Madison on Monday, Sept. 24. Phoebe Petrovic/WPR

Federal Immigration, Customs and Enforcement officers took Wisconsin by surprise over the weekend with a series of targeted arrests.

Between Friday and Sunday, ICE agents arrested nearly 30 people: 11 in Madison and 18 elsewhere across the state, including two in Milwaukee, two in Green Bay, and five in Wausau.

Gissell Vera says her uncle Erick Gamboa Chay was one of those arrested in Milwaukee. On Friday morning, Vera was on her way to school when she got a text from her aunt. Federal agents had arrested Gamboa Chay at his home, after falsely representing themselves as police.

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Gamboa Chay is the father of three young children, ages 8, 4 and 1. Vera said they hid in the attic and cried as their father was taken away.

“The middle son is like, ‘So when is he going to come back? When are they going to bring him back?’” said Vera at a press conference Monday, Sept. 24 at Centro Hispano in Madison. “And how do you answer that question when we don’t even know what’s going to happen?”

Gamboa Chay is being held in Kenosha County without bond, according to Vera. She and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, with which the high schooler volunteers, say the detentions have galvanized their activism against the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Federal data shows a 30 percent increase in arrests nationwide by ICE agents last year.

Activists at Voces say they have been inundated with calls since Friday from people like Vera saying that federal agents were in their neighborhoods, taking their loved ones.

At a packed press conference Monday, the group’s executive director, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, said they refuse to let people live in fear.

We’re going to use this to convert fear into power, into unity, as we always have, because here in Wisconsin, si se puede,” she said. The phrase translates to “yes we can.”

Dane County’s Centro Hispano held the event, which was attended by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, Madison Alder Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, members of the Madison police department, among others.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Police Chief Mike Koval say federal agents ignored protocol by failing to alert local law enforcement about their arrival. Koval said the department has an agreement with ICE to know when and where arrests are made, which Soglin is now calling on the agency to honor.

“Our message to them is very simple,” Soglin said at the press conference, referring to ICE, “if you want to make our communities safe, if you want to make this nation safer, then come to us and we will tell you if there is anyone of danger in the community. We do not need you making your determination that someone who may have some traffic violations, someone who simply may be undocumented, or (someone who may) have some minor other offenses, is someone who is a danger to our community.”

Soglin continued that although the federal government is “the absolute authority on this matter,” ICE should defer to local law enforcement and officials before they “do anything” if they “are truly committed to a safe community.”

ICE did not respond to a request for comment.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, with original reporting from WPR staff.

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