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Politics & Government

WI Groups Prepare to Protect Undocumented Immigrants from Possible Deportation

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Demonstrators including students from local high schools and college rally in November 16, 2016 in Homestead, Florida against President-elect Donald Trump and are asking that the city be used as a sanctuary city.

It's not clear when or how President-election Donald Trump will implement some of his campaign pledges, including mass deportations of immigrants who are here illegally. Yet Wisconsin groups are taking steps to protect undocumented residents in the event Trump begins his promised round-up.

In his first in-depth interview as president-elect, Donald Trump gave a rough sketch of how he'll roll out deportations. He said he'll focus on removing 2-3 million "criminals," such as gang members and drug dealers. Trump told the 60 Minutes interviewer that he's not sure what to do about the remaining millions of immigrants here illegally.

"After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people," Trump said.

It might appear Trump is softening his stance since the campaign. Yet UW-Madison professor Cindy I-Fen Cheng is not reassured. She co-authored a letter this week to UW-Madison officials, urging them to make the university a "sanctuary campus." Cheng says the designation would mean the university would ban immigration enforcement officials from setting foot anywhere on campus: "housing, you know, any residential hall, eating areas, classrooms, every facility."

Cheng says 4,000 people, including students and faculty, signed the letter. The same is happening on other American campuses. And now, she says organizers plan to establish protocols for taking care of undocumented students -- if the time comes.

The organization Voces de la Frontera has begun enlisting places of worship, according to spokeswoman Christine Neumann-Ortiz.

Neumann-Ortiz: "We're asking churches to have that conversation within their congregations and then to take a public stance to stand in solidarity with immigrant families."

Henzl: "And would that include those congregations possibly getting involved in sheltering people, if need be?"

Neumann-Ortiz: "Absolutely."

Neumann-Ortiz says the last week or so has been a scary time for undocumented immigrants. Catholic Charities in Milwaukee has made the same observation, and posted videos online in Spanish and English. The non-profit provides legal services for immigrants.

Catholic Charities post: "No one has any information on if or when there might be any changes. There won't be any changes before the change in presidential administration."

The videos urge people not to take drastic action, such as leaving the country. And they suggest immigrants meet with experts to discuss any steps they should take.

Milwaukee immigration attorney Marc Christopher says he, too, has witnessed anxiety among undocumented immigrants since Election Day.

"The anxiety comes from the rhetoric during the campaign and the unknown as far as what (Trump is) actually going to do," Christopher says.

Christopher says he's been asked a lot of questions lately.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook. I probably get 15-20 emails a day from people asking me what's going to happen, and unfortunately, the only answer I can give them is 'I just don’t know,'" Christopher says.

Christopher says he’s advising undocumented immigrants to stay informed about new directives from the White House. And he tells people that if the Trump administration does eventually target them for deportation, they will have a right to legal representation.

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