Immigration forum sparks some heated discussion
WILLMAR — Minutemen Civil Defense Corps member Ron Branstner of California brought his message of opposition to illegal immigration and what he says are harmful effects on small communities during a two-hour forum Thursday night at the Willmar Public Library.
Branstner said during an interview prior to the meeting that his main message is dealing strictly with the law. Branstner said he is not opposed to legal immigration.
“I deal strictly with one thing and one thing only and that’s the law, which pertains to the Constitution,’’ he said. “I don’t put a target or a label on illegal. I don’t put a color. That’s irrelevant to me. We’re dealing strictly with the rule of law.’’
Branstner says the influx of immigrants takes revenue out of the community because facilities such as hospitals and schools are overwhelmed, and he says crime goes up.
The discussion Thursday night ranged broadly — and often was lively and loud — among the approximately 30 audience members who attended.
One woman cautioned Branstner against speaking in generalities.
Heated discussion broke out about assimilation when one man from Olivia said undocumented workers receive preference for services.
Another audience member who said he works in human services said 90 percent of the people he deals with are white. He said he does not favor illegal immigration.
“None of us are for illegal immigration,’’ he said.
Others talked about their grandparents coming to the United States and overcoming various obstacles in a new country.
Branstner also talked at the meeting about revenue losses to the United States due to identification theft and remittances sent by those working in the U.S. to countries where their relatives are living.
He also discussed a former federal government program called 287 (g), in which local law enforcement departments could enter into a memorandum of understanding with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to arrest illegal immigrants. He said many mayors did not know about the program.
Willmar City Council member Ron Christianson said the program was on the council agenda in 2011. He said the meeting room was flooded and those who spoke in favor of the program were smeared.
Branstner said the program was a big enforcement tool “and the federal government took it away.’’
Branstner told the Tribune in the interview that he hoped to make people aware of problems associated with illegal immigration.
“A lot of people when I speak up here, they don’t know exactly what’s happening down on the border,’’ he said. “They’ve never seen it. They never witnessed it, and I try to bring the awareness and what it does to small cities.’’
Branstner said he believes people who enter the country illegally are being exploited by human traffickers and corporations that hire undocumented workers.
Branstner pointed out, however, that illegal immigration “doesn’t have a face. There is not one culture. It’s everybody that comes over here illegally. We don’t base anything on one particular culture because it can mean anything from somebody just coming from another nation. It’s just the corridor we’re working with.’’
He was referring to the Texas-Mexico border where the 50,000-acre King Ranch is located and a 76-mile corridor where he said people cross illegally and where he said thousands have been assaulted or killed. Branstner said he participated with others in patrolling the border from 2008 to 2010.
During the meeting, a woman in the audience asked Branstner for data on border problems. Branstner said he only had his personal experience.
Part of the meeting involved watching a video featuring journalist Roy Beck who said population growth brought about by immigration is resulting in urban sprawl, loss of farmland and harmful environmental effects.
Beck urged watchers to tell Congress to “return to the golden era of immigration’’ in 1965 when under 200,000 immigrants were allowed to enter the United States.
Branstner asked the audience what they wanted to do about illegal immigration. One woman, her voice rising, called for beefing up law enforcement.
Also, Branstner singled out the Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids. The Blandin Foundation on its website says its mission is to strengthen rural Minnesota communities, especially the Grand Rapids area.
Branstner says the foundation invites city mayors, council members and others for week-long workshops about cultural diversity and establishing cultural diversity centers in their cities without telling the citizens.
The Blandin Foundation was a partner in Willmar’s Vision 2020 community planning effort. Diversity and tolerance were among the top goals that emerged from community meetings, according to a 2001 story in the Tribune archives.
The YMCA facility that was built in 2000 and 2001 on Lakeland Drive in Willmar grew from the Vision 2020 process as well, archive stories show, and a $500,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation contributed to the capital drive for it.