WILLMAR -- Nearly 100 people from the Hispanic population and a few Anglo supporters sat and stood elbow to elbow in the Municipal Utilities meeting room Monday night as more than 30 speakers expressed their opposition to the possibility of Willmar participating in a federal immigration enforcement training program.
Speakers told the City Council the training was not necessary because the police department already works with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to detain criminals that the police learn are here illegally.
Speakers said they worried Hispanic residents would be stopped and asked for documentation and they feared families would be divided if one parent was deported, leaving the other parent alone with children. Speakers also said Hispanics were here to work and to receive an education.
After listening to two hours of testimony, Mayor Les Heitke said the issue was tabled and no decision would be made.
Although several speakers made reference to enacting a law, council member Ron Christianson said the council was not talking about a law. He said it's about sending one police officer to four weeks of ICE training who would have the authority to act as an ICE agent.
Christianson said it's not about racial profiling. He said the intent is to remove criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community.
"You are community as well we are community,'' he said. "If we have an illegal alien who poses a threat to this community, wouldn't we all want him removed? It's to all of our benefit.''
The ICE program allows state and local law enforcement entities to enter into a partnership with ICE to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
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 on May 3 discussed the request but sent it back to the Public Works/Safety Committee for more discussion. The committee discussed the matter May 11 but tabled it. Committee chairman Doug Reese reported on the meeting.
Reese, who has spoken against participation, said ICE would have to allow Willmar to participate. Whether Willmar would qualify is unknown, he said. Other participating cities are much larger that Willmar. Personally, Reese thought Willmar's chance is very slim.
Before the council decides, said Ahmann, members need the facts to make an intelligent decision. He hoped that tabling the matter did not kill discussion. He said illegal immigration is a local, state and national issue that needs addressing. He said he has nothing against Latinos or any other group.
Ahmann said ICE recognizes that poultry and food processing industries are their No. 1 priority problem areas where those are located in this state.
Council member Denis Anderson, a retired 41-year Hormel and Jennie-O Turkey Store employee, took offense at the comment. Anderson said he can't speak for Jennie-O processes, but said the company checks documentation.
"If they're given false documentation, there's not much they can do about that,'' Anderson said. "It hurts me when we say Jennie-O is doing something illegal, not checking documentation of the people they hire. That's just flat out wrong and I'm very proud of all the people that work at Jennie-O.''
Ahmann said he may have been misunderstood. "They're saying that that's where one of the biggest problems in enforcement issues are,'' he said.
Anderson said the problem is not Jennie-O. Ahmann said he didn't mention Jennie-O.