City Council member pushes for increased illegal immigration enforcement
WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council member Steve Ahmann wants the Police Department to receive training from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to locally enforce federal immigration laws and deal with the issue of illegal immigration.
"I'm a firm believer in giving police officers and the department the tools they need to help enforce the law. If that means more training, then give it to them. And if it means to do this in cooperation with the federal government and the federal issue, then do it,'' he says.
Ahmann says illegal immigration has been a continuing issue for the community for years.
Ahmann says he welcomes any foreigner into this country legally.
"If they want to come here, more power to them if we can create jobs. We have a lot of good people in this community who are Latino heritage that have enriched our community and I support that. I think that's great,'' he said.
"But I cannot stand back and be silent on this issue anymore. We need to finally address it and I'm glad it's being brought up nationally right now. I don't think it's fair for people to take advantage of our services without being citizens of this country,'' he said.
Ahmann said he has talked to Latino friends who know individuals with false documents who are illegally living here and obtaining jobs. But, Ahmann said, his friends are afraid to speak out against it for fear of retaliation.
"Why are elected officials putting our heads in the sand and trying to think the problem's going to go away and let the federal government take care of it?'' he asked. "I think it's important for every elected official to let the people who voted them in office know how they feel about this issue. And after they know how people feel, to do something about it.''
Last month, Ahmann asked Police Chief Jim Kulset to research the 287(g) Program, an ICE initiative that lets state and local law enforcement entities enter into a contract to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
Ahmann's request was referred to the council's Public Works/Safety Committee. The committee discussed the program's pros and cons last week. The council was discussing the program Monday night, along with other business, when the Tribune went to press.
In an earlier interview, Ahmann said the timing of his request and Arizona's enactment of immigration law is pure coincidence.
"I had no knowledge of what was going on in Arizona. I hope people don't think that I'm trying to pass Arizona legislation,'' he said.
"We have laws here to protect our citizens and we all should be treated equally. But if people are violating the law, it's a law that's broken and they should be dealt with accordingly. But I don't think we should be racial profiling,'' he said. "If anybody is here illegally, they should not be.''
In an interview Monday morning, Kulset said participation in the program is more of a political discussion than a practical discussion. The department already notifies ICE if officers -- while working on a criminal case -- believe an individual is here illegally.
"Generally what (ICE) will do now is they will place a hold on that person in our county jail until such time as the state charges are done,'' said Kulset. "On the jail roster on any given day, there are probably 5 to 25 people with ICE holds on them. They are waiting for state charges to be done before ICE does something with them.''
Kulset said ICE's attitude toward investigating illegals has changed during the last three to four years. He thinks it has more to do with funding than anything.
"There was a time, a number of years ago, when we would have championed the program because ICE was not interested in illegals unless it was a violent crime,'' the chief said. "It used to be that in property crimes, we knew they were not going to come and get 'em anyway, so we didn't call them. But in the last few years, their attitude has changed or policies or what they do has changed. Now even in property crimes they'll investigate 'em.''