Monday, April 30, 2007

Willmar Immigration Raids Result in Mass Lawsuits

News story about Willmar, MN raid and resulting lawsuit by over 60 plaintiffs, confirming ICE agents had no warrants to enter homes. Apparently, after a community meeting gave advice to immigrants not to open doors, ICE was not able to arrest anyone else and discontinued the raids.

Twin Cities Daily Planet: Local News For Global Citizens
By Katrina Plotz , Pulse of the Twin Cities

Maria Diaz’s cell phone woke her up at 6 a.m. on April 10. “They’re raiding houses. They just took my cousin away,” said a frantic voice. Her phone didn’t stop ringing all day. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were conducting house-to-house raids in Willmar at dawn and people were terrified. Located 100 miles west of the Twin Cities, this town of 19,000 boasts 35 different ethnicities. Racial minorities account for 20 percent of the population. Many are immigrants who have a positive relationship with the community and contribute $80 million to the economy, according to MSNBC.

Diaz, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Mexico, has lived in Willmar for 14 years and is a community organizer for Raíces, a project focused on building community and overcoming poverty among rural Latinos. Raíces, which means roots in Spanish, refers to the deep roots that connect Latinos to their families, history and culture. Because of her community work, Diaz knows nearly all the Latinos in Willmar. When ICE agents started hauling people away, she was their first call for help.

Their stories were chilling and similar. Callers described being woken up by loud pounding on their doors and windows. When they opened the door, seven to 10 armed men calling themselves police forced their way inside. They asked for specific people, but demanded identification from every person of color in the house. White people inside were not treated this way. Undocumented individuals were handcuffed and taken away before they could even get dressed. Some were arrested wearing only boxer shorts.

ICE agents conducting the raids acted without warrants, and received information and logistical support from Willmar police. An ICE spokesman said the warrantless raids were legal because “agents were given permission to enter the homes.” According to Diaz, the agents used force and intimidation to gain entry. “They separated people immediately and were very rough. They yelled and used profanity. All the Latinos in Willmar were scared, even the U.S. citizens.”

As raids continued the following day, several families went into hiding. Some fled to other states. ICE agents also confronted Latinos on the street. Diaz said a friend of hers was pulled over for no apparent reason. When she asked why, an agent said, “Are you afraid? Do you have something to hide?” After her driver’s license proved she was a U.S. citizen, he sneered, “Is this yours or someone else’s?” Diaz said several people were questioned simply because they were Latino.

After three days of raids and harassment, local activists organized a community meeting with the help of attorneys from Centro Legal, a Twin Cities-based agency serving mostly Latino immigrants. They gathered in a church on Thursday night and 150 people attended. The attorneys emphasized the following rights: Law enforcement agents cannot legally enter homes without a search or arrest warrant. If apprehended, people have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

Informing people of their rights made an immediate impact. ICE agents arrested only three people on Friday. A woman who attended the meeting called Diaz the next day, exhilarated. “When they came, we didn’t answer the door,” she said. “They pounded for a long time. We were so scared, but we ignored them and they left.” In all, 49 people were arrested, processed at the ICE regional office in Bloomington and jailed. Five people have already been deported.

According to Travis Thompson, an attorney for Centro Legal, “an incredible number of lawful permanent residents were also detained and let go.” He called the raids “home invasions,” and posed this question: “If ICE had probable cause to suspect certain people, why didn’t they get arrest warrants? They could have also obtained administrative warrants, the category an immigration violation usually falls under, where the burden of proof is much less. But they had neither.”

Centro Legal has filed a lawsuit against ICE on behalf of over 60 plaintiffs, and has obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent more deportations until Thursday, April 26, when they will explain their case to a judge. “Our affidavits indicate that Fourth Amendment violations took place, as well as violations of people’s right to due process, legal counsel and equal protection,” said Thompson. “Law enforcement agents cannot break the law to achieve their ends.”

On Sunday, April 15, 200 people held a candlelight vigil outside the Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul where many immigrants are still being detained. Organized in less than 48 hours by the MN Immigrant Rights Action (MIRA) Coalition, the MN Immigrant Freedom Network and Jewish Community Action, the vigil gave people the chance to speak out and show their solidarity.

“We are against raids and deportations,” said Eduardo Cardenas, a legal immigrant from Colombia. “We want legalization for all.” Francisco Segovia, a legal immigrant from El Salvador, spoke in favor of continued action. “We are not powerless. We need to keep organizing the community and begin a new stage in the struggle.”

Immigrant rights activists are planning a march for May 1, International Worker’s Day. The march begins at 4:30 on the corner of Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis and concludes in Powderhorn Park. All are invited to participate.

submitted: April 28, 2007 - 10:04pm



1 comment:

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