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Broadband project teeters on brink; Kandiyohi County officials still hopeful

Citizens rally to help Willmar man make plea for asylum

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Lilia Morales, from left, Veronica Torres and Jose Montoya visit Sunday evening as they show their support for Melvin Siu at Living Hope Church in Willmar. Over 60 people gathered at the church to find ways to help Siu, who was taken into custody Tuesday and faces deportation to Guatemala.1 / 4
Submitted This photograph of Melvin Siu is posted on Facebook by ISAIAH, a nonprofit organization working to seek asylum for him. He was taken into custody by immigration officials Tuesday while working at Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar.2 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune The Rev. Jose Rivera leads a prayer vigil Sunday at Living Hope Church in Willmar as people gathered to find ways to help Melvin Siu plead for asylum. He was detained Tuesday by federal immigration authorities.3 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Catalina Morales, an organizer with ISAIAH, tells those gathered Sunday evening at the Living Word Church in Willmar that two of Melvin Siu's relatives were murdered in Guatemala, and he fears for his life if deported. 4 / 4

WILLMAR — A phone call Tuesday morning put a mother of two children in tears and brought more than 60 people to the Living Hope Church in Willmar for a prayer vigil Sunday evening.

They gathered to pray and discuss ways to help Melvin Siu, who was taken into custody Tuesday morning by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A native of Guatemala, Siu has been living in the U.S. for more than 16 years; the past 10 years in Willmar where he has been employed during this time at Jennie-O Turkey Store.

"Safety is one of our biggest worries,'' said Catalina Morales, an organizer with ISAIAH, a faith-based organization of over 100 congregations in Minnesota working on social justice issues. It is working to help Siu. Morales said that two of Siu's relatives were recently murdered in Guatemala, one just after he returned from the United States. She said ISAIAH will plead for asylum for Siu due to the danger he faces.

Siu's wife, who asked not to be identified, said she fears for her husband's safety as well. She and her husband are parents to two young children, one seven months old, and he is their sole provider. She has no family in the area, she said. He also has two children from a previous marriage.

A co-worker called Siu's wife about 11 a.m. Tuesday to inform her that her husband had been taken into custody.

She said the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband has left her fearful and worried for her children.

"A little bit of everything, a little bit of everything,'' she said through an interpreter when asked her emotions following his apprehension.

"I feel like I lost a son,'' said the Rev. Jose Rivera, pastor of the Living Hope Church during the prayer vigil. Rivera said Siu has been a regular worshipper at the church, and known for his faith, support for his family, and quiet ways.

Rivera said he has never lost a member of the congregation like this before, but he shares the fears for Siu's safety. He went to visit Siu in jail this week and his parishioner told him: "'If they deport me, I will die,''' said Rivera. The pastor said he knows of another man from an Illinois congregation who had been deported to Guatemala, and murdered on the day he arrived.

"A nice man,'' said Jose Montoya, a worshipper at the church, of Siu. Montoya was among those who had come to the vigil to learn what they could do to help.

Morales said Siu has never committed any crimes but is undocumented. He was taken into custody at his workplace on Tuesday, transported first to Fort Snelling and then to the Sherburne County Jail, where he remains, according to information shared at the prayer vigil.

Morales said that after he was taken into custody, he was shown a photo of a man he did not recognize. He was told the man had been using his identity.

Morales said it wasn't until Sunday that agents directly told Siu why he had been taken into custody. They told him they had a deportation order issued 16 years ago and had been looking for him.

Pastor Rivera said people who wish to help in the effort to obtain asylum for Siu can contact the church.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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