WILLMAR -- Members of the Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee are continuing the discussion -- but made no decision -- about possibly participating in a federal immigration law enforcement program.
The committee Tuesday afternoon received background information about the Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) program from Police Chief Jim Kulset.
The council had directed Kulset to provide more information about the ICE program.
The program allows state and local law enforcement entities to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint memorandum of agreement, in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
Committee members also received comments from two community members who voiced concerns about possible negative effects from participating in the program.
The council began discussing the ICE program after council member Steve Ahmann said last month that he wants the Police Department to receive ICE training to locally enforce federal immigration laws and deal with the issue of illegal immigration.
The council at the May 3 meeting discussed the request but sent it back to the Public Works/Safety Committee for more discussion.
If the department identifies a suspect of a crime as being in this country illegally, the department charges the suspect with the state crime and notifies ICE, Kulset told the committee. He said ICE generally puts a "hold'' on the suspect until the state charges are resolved.
He said the department generally does not ask about the document status of crime victims, witnesses to crimes or suspects in minor infractions. He said police cannot arrest someone just because they are undocumented.
"It is not mandatory to ask where they are from,'' Kulset said. "I don't make the rules. You need to have probable cause to have reason to believe where they are from.''
Kulset said the Police Department generally becomes aware of illegal aliens by someone telling officers, by the use of fraudulent documents or identification, and by jail bookings.
If Willmar did participate in the program, the Police Department would process criminal aliens identified by probable cause, Kulset said.
Kulset did not speak for or against the program, but provided a list of "talking points.''
Among possible benefits, the program requires a three-year memorandum of agreement. Officers receive four weeks of training and are supervised by ICE. Among the positives, officers receive expertise in federal immigration law, there's no cost for training other than paying the officers' wages, and the public may want the enforcement.
Some concerns may be polarization of the community and the relationship with the minority community, and whether or not undocumented persons will report crime. Also, the public may not want local enforcement.
Committee Chairman Doug Reese said he thinks the negatives outweigh the positives. He questioned whether entering into a memorandum of agreement would change things much, and he said the Police Department's work now is effective.
Committee member Ron Christianson supports the program. Christianson said he is not targeting any culture and he questions how the city's relationship with the minority population would be harmed.
"The easiest thing for us to do is nothing,'' he said. "I don't see as many negatives. I see more positives. We all are supposed to obey the law. I'm tired of it. People come and break the law. The feds won't do it. We need to get involved. We are just trying to enforce the federal law that is not being enforced.''
Committee members Rick Fagerlie and Bruce DeBlieck said the matter is complex and needs more discussion and research before a decision is made.
The meeting was attended by five representatives of the Willmar Area Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition.
They included Charly Leuze, director of the West Central Integration Collaborative in Willmar, and the Rev. Naomi Mahler of Paz y Esperanza Church in Willmar.
Among other things, Leuze urged the committee to delay a decision. She said spending local money to enforce a federal law does not make sense. She said immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, provide an economic benefit.
Mahler said the coalition, formed in December, encourages reform of federal immigration law, but she said participation in the 287 program is unnecessary. She said the Police Department is doing its job and is working with ICE.