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Swift search affects children of detainees

WORTHINGTON -- Concern and uncertainty prevailed Tuesday as educators tried to cope with fallout from the federal immigration sweep at the local Swift and Company plant.

"We are aware of it, and we will try to be supportive of students whose lives are disrupted," said Betty McAllister, District 518's Director of Special Programs.

No one seemed sure of the fate of children whose parents were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"I could guess if parents leave, they would probably go with them," McAllister said. "It's got to be hard on the kids, though."

ICE did not inform the school about the raid. The district found out through other sources, according to District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard.

"Parents are coming and taking their kids out of school," Landgaard said Tuesday morning.

"Hopefully, we'll know which kids may or may not be affected, and we'll be able to deal with them at that point," he added. "We don't have all the answers in this process."

At Nobles County Integration Collaborative as well as at Community Connections and District 518 Community Education worried parents and relatives made calls to nearly anyone who might potentially know what was happening.

"I've been getting phone calls from people asking," said Thongsay Chantharath, a Collaborative program aide.

Answers about what would happen to potentially stranded children as well as children whose parents were detained were hard to find.

"We know that as a result of the activity in this community, some families are threatened or feel fearful of the process and are choosing to stay home," said Jerry Fiola, director of District 518 Community Education. "We know that some of the people who have participated in our programs have a spouse that's been detained."

Community Education's largest ESL (English as a second language) classes aren't scheduled on Tuesdays, so there was no way of knowing how many of those students were affected.

Long-term effects from the raid could be detrimental to the school system, depending on how many students leave the school.

"We lose funding from the state when we don't have kids in our building," Landgaard said. "So, there's some long-term financial issues that could be raised on this."

About 31 percent of the students in District 518 are Latino, and those students bring in 34 percent of the funding, according to a study completed this year by the Center for Rural Policy and Development. Those students' parents may or may not be illegal immigrants.

"The last time they did this, our numbers went down for a while. It does jeopardize our funding. We are funded based on the number of participants," said Adult Basic Education instructor Marty Olsen.

It will probably be a few days before area educators can evaluate the full effect of the ICE action on local students.

"At this point, there are a lot of unanswered questions," Fiola said.

As of 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, the Nobles County Family Service Agency had not yet received any reports of children left unattended.

"If we get reports, we look for other family, relatives, friends that could assist with caretaking for the children," said Family Service Director Lee McAllister. "If that's not an option, obviously, we would do some kind of foster care, at least on an emergency basis, until we could find family or relatives that would assist with the parenting."

ICE often encounters people in the country illegally who have children at home or who are primary caregivers.

"This is something we deal with every single day," said ICE Public Affairs Officer Tim Counts. "People who we arrest sometimes have children. We are quite accustomed to dealing with this."

According to Counts, everyone is asked whether they have children and, if so, if someone can take care of them.

"On a case-by-case basis, we may release a primary caregiver on their own recognizance and schedule them for a hearing at a later date before a federal immigration judge," Counts said.