Immigrant rights groups say Mayor Barrett betrayed them over MPD policy change

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MILWAUKEE -- Immigrant rights groups say Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has betrayed them by supporting new Milwaukee Police Department policies that the groups argue will lead to racial profiling.

Milwaukee Alderman Jose Perez

Activists gathered on the ground floor of Milwaukee City Hall on Wednesday, June 5th to rally against the changes, which are set to take effect on Thursday. Barrett says the changes are both technical and necessary to comply with the rules of federal grants that fund a significant amount of the Milwaukee police budget.

In Barrett, the immigration groups have turned on a man whose immigration policies they previously applauded.

"That’s why we see it as such a betrayal that this has happened, and especially the manner in which it did," said Darryl Morin of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

Darryl Morin, LULAC

LULAC, Voces de la Frontera, and Milwaukee Ald. Jose Perez criticized the policies for being written quietly without a public hearing. Barrett said the city attorney's office developed the new policies.

One of the changes prohibits an MPD officer from using inquiries into a person's immigration status "as a means to dissuade or avoid" other policework, such as interviewing witnesses or filing an incident report.

The old wording including a more clear prohibition. It said officers "shall not question any person about his or her immigration status unless that person is reasonably believed to be involved" in certain serious offenses, such as arrests for a felony, possession or use of a dangerous weapon, or terrorism-related crimes. Officers could also check a person's immigration status when he or she is a previously deported felon or a member of a gang.

Activists say it opens the door to more inquiries and racial profiling.

A second change says that police officers "shall inform" federal immigration agents of the whereabouts or behaviors of a suspected illegal immigrant who has been arrested for one of the serious offenses listed or a previously deported felon or member of a gang.

Barrett said MPD was already reporting such people to the federal government.

"We view it as a technical change," Barrett told FOX6 News on Tuesday.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Barrett says the city attorney saw the changes as necessary to keep the city eligible for federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants that require certain wording.

"Talking  to the police chief, talking to his command staff, they continue to assert to me -- and I believe them -- that they are going to continue to treat immigrants with the dignity they have always treated them with," Barrett said.

Milwaukee Police were not immediately able to say how much money the department received through Byrne grants in 2017. Another source within city government called the funding "significant."

Barrett said the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission "may decide" to have a public hearing on the changes, which Barrett said he would support. The commission has its regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 13th, though it has not published its agenda.

The assurances from Barrett did not satisfy the immigration rights groups.

"This is more than words on a page. It's more than a technicality. He's stripping people of their rights and opening them up to racial profiling," said Christine Newman-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.

CLICK HERE to read Mayor Barrett's statement on the policy.