Willmar on edge after raidsby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
The immigrant community in Willmar is on edge after the arrests of several people in the past few days. Federal officials say they're targeting illegal immigrants, most with criminal records, in an ongoing operation. On Thursday night in Willmar, immigrant support groups held a meeting to tell the Hispanic community what's known about the arrests, and to gather stories from the audience about how the arrests have played out.
Willmar, Minn. — More than 100 people gathered for the meeting at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar. Legal officials told the crowd what little they know about the arrests. They estimate nearly 100 illegal immigrants have been taken into custody in Willmar in the last few days.
But the legal experts were also asking questions of the crowd. Gloria Contraras-Eden, an attorney with Centro Legal, a non-profit firm based in the Twin Cities that specializes in immigration law, wanted to know what happened during the raids? What kinds of uniforms were the officers wearing, and if they displayed guns?
The legal experts were also on hand to offer their advice on what to do if immigration agents come to the door.
Maria Diaz, who works with Willmar's Hispanic community, says they want immigrants to know they have rights, even if they're in the country illegally.
"...the right to remain silent and right to ask for a lawyer, those two will really help a lot, a lot of people would not have been taken if they know their rights," she said.
Diaz says many doubt the government's claim that this is a targeted raid on illegal immigrants with criminal records. To the Latino community watching the arrests, it appears to be an immigration sweep on the town.
But Tim Counts, with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in Bloomington, says this is not a wide raid on illegal immigrants, like last December's operation at the Swift and Company Meat Packing Plant in Worthington. Although Counts says while searching for certain people, agents can and will arrest other illegal immigrants they encounter.
"Like any law enforcement agency, say a highway patrol officer pulls somebody over for speeding and discovered the passenger wasn't wearing her seatbelt and ended up citing her for that as well," he said. "So when we're pursuing one lawbreaker we often times encounter other law breakers."
Counts won't say for certain how many people have been taken into custody, because he says this is an ongoing operation.
Immigrant advocates say in coming days they'll continue talking to people who've been through the arrests, to see if the federal agents themselves did anything illegal. -