Hispanics protest immigration policy

From St. Cloud Times:

by David Unze and Kirsti Marohn

A group of Latino residents and supporters participated in a sit-in Monday morning at the Stearns County Sheriff's Office to protest what they called unfair actions by local and federal law enforcement toward undocumented immigrants.

About two dozen people entered the Law Enforcement Center just after 9 a.m. chanting and telling stories about what has happened to loved ones. A smaller group later met with Sheriff John Sanner in his office.

The rally was organized by Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a faith-based nonprofit that lobbies for immigration reform.

Protesters talked about family members being followed, arrested and questioned and of having U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contacted. They expressed concerns about families being broken up and family members taken to jail or deported.

Group members argued that local law enforcement are racially profiling Latinos and pulling them over for minor offenses or no reason at all, then contacting ICE.

Sanner said that he understood that immigration is a difficult situation and that he supports immigration reform. But there are laws he has to follow, he said.

He said before the meeting that Hispanics in Stearns County are treated the same as any other group of people. The county doesn't contact ICE unless they encounter someone who has committed a crime and either is in the country illegally or their identity can't be verified.

Two years ago, several Minnesota counties announced they would stop detaining people at ICE's request after the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups protested the practice. Stearns County doesn't do so-called courtesy holds, Sanner told the group.

If someone commits a crime for which they would normally be taken to jail, the jail will try to verify their identity. If they verify the person is in the country illegally, jail staff will call ICE and follow what ICE asks them to do, Sanner told the Times. That could mean that ICE will seek a court order to detain the person until ICE can come pick them up.

It could mean the jail will do what it does with any other person arrested — book and hold for court or book and release them. If there is no court order or warrant to hold that person, they will be released. If ICE asks for a notification when that person is released, the county will send ICE that notification.

One woman, a pregnant mother with two children, told about being followed on her way home from work by a sheriff's deputy, who pulled her over. She gave him the ID she uses for work and was arrested for providing false information. She was taken to jail, fingerprinted and held for three hours. The next day, ICE officers were knocking on doors in her neighborhood.

Group members felt that she was targeted for being Latino and wondered why ICE was contacted. Capt. Jon Lentz told the group he has advised deputies not to contact ICE, but would prefer all immigration issues be handled by the jail.

Sanner noted that some of the group's concerns were broad based and involved federal, state and local authorities, not just Stearns County.

The protesters asked Sanner for a meeting to sit down and review the department's policies in dealing with immigrants. They also asked to provide the department with training to educate deputies on immigration and improve relations with the Latino community.

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