Names have been changed to protect the safety of the family. Interview translated from Spanish by Lucia Maldonado.

On the day Manuel went to have his electronic monitor cut off, he was feeling “uneasy” about being picked up by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It only took minutes for the sheriff’s deputy at the county jail to remove the clunky black box from his leg.

When a friend who was supposed to give him a ride did not show up, Manuel started walking with his wife and one-year-old son to get away from the jail. As they walked west down Main Street toward the Schnucks in downtown Urbana, he sensed that “something was going to happen.” When they got to Poplar Street, he noticed a parked minivan. Two men got out and approached them. Speaking in Spanish, one of them identified himself as an immigration officer, and told him he was under arrest. The man called him by his name and carried his mugshot. According to Manuel, they did not have a warrant. He was placed in handcuffs and put inside the van.

His wife, who was four months pregnant, protested in Spanish, “Why are you doing this? We have children? I am pregnant. Who is going to take care of us?”

Manuel makes decent money doing roofing jobs in Champaign-Urbana. Working on rooftops in the full sun can be hot and dangerous, but he is able to provide for his growing family. He came to the US ten years ago from Guatemala where he worked long hours for little pay.

In detail, Manuel recounted how the two officers then drove him to Sheriff Dan Walsh’s office on Main Street in Downtown Urbana. They drove up to a sally port at the side of the building, past a door that closed behind them, and down into a dimly lit basement room. “It was really dark,” Manuel recalled. They took him out of the van to put him in full shackles. They placed chains around his ankles, waist, and wrists. He was then put back into the minivan. One of the officers drove him to St. Louis where ICE has a headquarters building. The other officer stayed at the sheriff’s office. Manuel wondered if he worked for ICE or the sheriff.

ICE Radar Goes UP

This was one of two recent cases where individuals were picked up by ICE when they went to have their electronic monitors cut off at the jail. The other was a father of four, that I wrote about for Smile Politely, who in May was arrested in the jail parking lot immediately after his electronic monitor was removed. Both had been put on monitors for DUIs. Back then, I asked Sheriff Walsh if he was cooperating with ICE. In an email response, he said he was not detaining people for ICE, but that release dates were “public record.”

Since mid-2015, I have been tracking ICE. Thanks to an agreement between local police and ICE, it was routine for ICE to notify the 911 dispatch, METCAD, about the presence of federal agents in the area. If someone goes missing, police can call METCAD to see if they have been picked up by ICE. Otherwise, police in Champaign and Urbana do not routinely communicate with ICE about these arrests. 

The information from METCAD can be obtained with a FOIA request. This has allowed me to confirm arrests and monitor where people are being picked up. I turned the information over to Adalberto Toledo, a journalist with the News-Gazette, who published an article analyzing the data and showing ICE’s increased activity in our community.

Shortly after I called the Sheriff in May, ICE cut off METCAD notifications. As I discovered in FOIA’d emails, it was a deliberate move to maintain secrecy and avoid public scrutiny. Ryan Snyder, a Lieutenant in the Sheriff’s office, subsequently reached out to his ICE contact, Douglas Standerfer, to ask if they were in town.

“Yes,” replied Standerfer, “we arrested someone in the parking lot of the satellite jail that morning. Who is asking?”

“A member of a local media group,” Lt. Ryan explained, “From most of the articles I have read (which admittedly are few) they call themselves a checks and balances group but mostly just bash law enforcement." I am the media source referred to in this email exchange.

Standerfer wondered in a response, "How did they know that we were there?"

Lt. Ryan assured his colleague, "We would never relay that information as that is a risk of officer safety."

Standerfer replied, "I know you guys wouldn't. I call METCAD every time I arrest someone to let them know. I'm starting to see a link between calling them and something appearing in the media. It's making my radar go up."

After this exchange, ICE stopped calling METCAD ahead of their visits. Since then, we have no public document of ICE in CU. Now we have to rely on word of mouth, which is not as reliable.

New Sheriff In Town

Sheriff Walsh is set to retire at the end of his current term. On November 6th, voters will have a choice between his likely successor, Allen Jones, a Republican and Walsh’s chief deputy, and Dustin Heuerman, an openly gay cop married to a Latino man, and a Democrat.

In a questionnaire published by the News-Gazette, both candidates responded to whether the sheriff should enter into a formal agreement with ICE. Heuerman did not want any involvement, stating, “An agreement with ICE will only increase fear of the police, and people who are scared of the police don’t report crimes.”

Allen Jones affirmed he would follow the current policy. In Jones’ words, he said, “an agreement is not necessary.” He explained further, “CCSO will continue to cooperate with federal enforcement agencies in matters such as notification of arrest, providing availability for interviews and release date information, if known.”

In no uncertain terms, Jones admits he would continue to work with ICE. There is no law preventing him from doing so.

Beds To The Feds

Manuel was transported in chains to the ICE field office in St. Louis. He was then driven 80 miles west to Montgomery City, Missouri, where the sheriff rents out beds to the feds. There is a jail off to the side of the county courthouse that holds approximately 70 people. About 20-25 of them are there for ICE. Increasingly, ICE is courting conservative sheriffs to house immigrants in county jails. Counties are making up for budget shortfalls by taking federal reimbursements to keep them. The sheriff in Kankakee County is currently making upwards of $900,000 a month holding ICE detainees, and is trying to expand the jail. 

I talked on the phone with Montgomery County Sheriff Matthew Shoo who said ICE had been working with the county for at least 15 years. He would not answer any further questions, saying he was “simply holding” people for ICE. For any other information, I would have to contact immigration authorities. He gave me the name of a media contact for ICE, who has not returned my calls.

According to Manuel, he was given an orange jumpsuit, the same color suit handed out to, he said, blacks, Asians, and Latinos to distinguish them from whites if a fight broke out. Most of the Latinos he talked to were there for traffic violations. Others came from Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois. A deputy in charge of the jail, who I talked to, would not confirm or deny that people in the jail are being racially segregated.

A local volunteer drove to pick Manuel up and bring him back to Champaign. They family paid $2,700 to bail him out.

Shortly after Manuel was arrested, the children had eaten all the food in the household. On July 4th, there was a support campaign that raised $1,000 and a carload of food for the family. This success inspired a fundraising campaign that over the summer brought in $13,000 for the Latino Partnership of Champaign County, a local group addressing the needs of undocumented families.

Those who would like to support Manuel’s family, and others, can still donate here

Photos by Brian Dolinar