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ICE pays Worthington another visit

WORTHINGTON -- Immigration officials were closed-mouthed Wednesday about what they were doing in Worthington, but did say they were conducting an enforcement operation targeting specific individuals in the area -- a very different operation than the roundup that took place at the Swift & Co. plant more than a year ago.

What wasn't different was the reaction from the Latino community.

"There was a lot of fear," said Sister Karen Thein of St. Mary's Catholic Church, who works closely with the local Hispanic population. "They were afraid."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) informed local authorities they were in town Wednesday morning, something Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey referred to as a "courtesy" on ICE's part. Other than that, Cumiskey did not know much about whom or what ICE was after.

"I e-mailed (Cumiskey), and he said that yes, ICE was in town," Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said Wednesday afternoon. "But this is a different group of people than were here before, looking for specific people."

Oberloh said he was not informed in advance like he was last December, but heard ICE was in town through a city council member. He expects the reaction from Worthington citizens will be the same as it was last time.

"The people against ICE being here will still be against them, the people for immigration reform will say 'yes, it's about time,'" he stated. "I don't think anybody's minds have changed."

Thein did report a difference that she said both surprised and moved her.

"So many of the Caucasian community has called and offered help," she said. "They are feeling such empathy and remembering the fear."

Thein found out what was happening when someone called to tell her a woman had been taken into custody by ICE. She contacted local authorities, who confirmed ICE was in the area.

She then contacted John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM). He told her ICE was going to certain homes -- that there were people in the area they were looking for.

Thein spent a large part of her day answering phone calls from people who were afraid.

"Downtown there were so few people out and about," she reported, adding she had been told there were very few people who visited the local food pantry.

Having ICE back in his town reinforced Oberloh's belief that the federal immigration program is "broken."

"We need immigration reform and need it now," he stated. "If it doesn't happen on a federal level, this will continue to go on forever and ever."

But where should that reform start?

"Well, I don't believe building fences in the answer," Oberloh said. "I think identification is. If there is going to be a guest worker program, there needs to be a way, whether it's biometrics or a national ID, that people who come here can tell you who they are. They need to get documentation, so if there is an issue, there is always a way to find out if this person should be here."

Oberloh believes corporations that hire illegal immigrants are at fault, but said their hands are also tied.

"They are not allowed to ask a person if they are legal," he explained. "They can ask for ID, and if it is provided and looks real, the company is stuck. If they ask for too much information, they can be fined for violating civil rights. It's a catch-22 for corporations."

ICE Spokesperson Gail Montenegro stated via e-mail that more information will be available after the operation concludes, but did not reply to an e-mail asking when that might be.

"I would add that ICE does not conduct random sweeps and emphasize that we are targeting specific individuals," she stated.

ICE announced Tuesday it had arrested 225 aliens in six other states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, during a four-day operation -- part of an effort to arrest those who did not follow a federal immigration judge's order to leave the country.

Officials said that operation and the one in Worthington Wednesday are not connected.