Social Issues

Chief Dan Meyer on growing numbers of migrants in Whitewater

Whitewater Police Chief Dan Meyer describes how a series of law enforcement contacts in early 2022 revealed an increase in migrant families from Nicaragua and Venezuela moving to the college town.

By Nathan Denzin | Here & Now

February 6, 2024 • Southeast Region

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Chief Dan Meyer:
The earliest we really noticed it was, I would say early 2022. And at that time there was about a week's span where we had three pretty critical things happen that really shed light that this wasn't typical. And that was, we had a family that was found in a 10-by-10 shed, and that was during the winter time, so January of '22, so very cold temperatures, 10 below. And there was a young child, I think a two or three-year-old child with that family. Definitely not typical. That same week we had a 14-year-old girl who we found out was being forced to work 30 hours a week as opposed to going to school, by dad. And then also that week we had a fire in a downtown apartment building that was caught by a passing mail carrier, ended up being a stovetop fire. But as the apartment was cleared, we ended up finding a four and a five-year-old kid that were both sleeping on the ground, no adults present. And again, not at all normal for this city. And would later find that all three of them had the connection that these people had recently come from Central America.

Nathan Denzin:
So over the last two years, have you seen more of these cases? Less and gradual all at once?

Chief Dan Meyer:
I honestly, since early '22, I would really say it's been, our staff has noticed a huge uptick, and it's been pretty consistent. I do think it's probably a higher impact now than it was in early 2022. But it's difficult to say, because a lot of that, it's very difficult to put an exact number on this, just to, we're we're talking about a lot of this are undocumented people. And so it be, you can't necessarily put a number to that type of a population. But what I can tell you is it's very common to come into a shift briefing, and all three shifts have had some type of contact with somebody that's here from Central America.

Nathan Denzin:
Do you have any idea how they got here and why they chose Whitewater?

Chief Dan Meyer:
That's a question that we field quite a bit, actually. And our best guess is that with COVID-19 happening, the university, some of the things changed as far as the classes. Some of it went online, some of it was canceled completely. And that changed the housing situation here in the city, where a lot of the typical off-campus housing that was filled by students was then vacant, and it created an opportunity there. So what we saw happen is that probably before 2022, we had a few families that came here from Central America. And the way the border policies work currently is that when someone crosses, customs identifies them and asks them if there is a sponsor family that they know other that can take them in. So if somebody is able to identify that sponsor family, and they can confirm that, they're essentially provided transportation to that sponsor family. So what ended up happening here is you start with a very few number of families, and that slowly grows, but it's like a pyramid. Eventually you've got that exponential growth, and then a couple years, you have a large number of people that have come here. And many of them are from, I think, a pretty small geographic area from the countries they're coming from, because they know each other.

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