Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 18, 2018

Community has more questions following immigration raid Wednesday

Police,immigration organizations hold forum at local church
May 11, 2018
Photo by: Grace King Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Ron Archer addresses families and friends of the men arrested by ICE, as well as concerned citizens during a community forum at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant on Thursday, May 10.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


A shocked community convened at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant Thursday afternoon looking for answers after 32 men were arrested at MPC Enterprises yesterday for alleged administrative immigrant violations.

The community forum was an effort by church leaders to humanize the story, with community leaders sharing their knowledge of the situation and opening up to questions from audience members in the crowded fellowship hall.

“That’s one of the church’s jobs is to reunite after something that hurts happens,” said Trey Hegar, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “It created more fear than we thought, than we expected.”

The arrests took place Wednesday, May 9 when a search warrant was executed by agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations and deportation officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Those being detained are currently being held at the Linn County Correctional Center in Cedar Rapids and the Harden County Detention Center in Eldora.

The arrests were made in cooperation with the Iowa State Patrol, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and the Mt. Pleasant Police Department.

Hegar, along with Iowa Welcomes its Immigrant Neighbors (Iowa WINS) organized the forum to call together leaders who wanted to share a message with the community, including Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Ron Archer and Sonia Reyes-Snyder with the Iowa Department of Human Rights in Des Moines.

Prior to the arrests, Archer said he was contacted by the Department of Homeland Security, who asked if the local police department would assist with a search warrant at MPC Enterprises. This was not a Mt. Pleasant Police Department investigation.

The search warrant did not include specific names of MPC Enterprises employees.

“It was a criminal investigation,” Archer added, saying he does not consider this a safety issue. “If you’re here in this country and you use someone else’s identity to work, that’s a crime. That’s a forgery. That’s a felony.”

While Archer’s comments elicited some “boo-ing” from the crowd, Hegar stood by his side, saying that of all the law enforcement officers involved in the investigation that he contacted, Archer was the only one willing to speak Thursday.

“Some of these were just hard-working family people. Some are here illegally and there is a law with that,” Hegar said. “We do get stuck between two difficult places when laws are enforced by people that we live and work with and when hard-working families are torn apart because those laws have been enforced.”

Erica Johnson, American Friends Service Committee immigration program director in Iowa, also spoke at the forum, explaining the pattern of how ICE operates and what steps she is taking to locate the individuals who were arrested.

“We’ve been spending the last 36 hours trying to locate people, meeting with family members and asking who’s missing really does create a sense of people disappearing from their communities,” Johnson said, adding that they have almost all the names of the men.

The next step after everyone is located is ensuring they have legal representation, which a lot of people already do, Johnson said. However, once they determine who does not have legal representation, they will make sure those pathways are open.

Johnson also explained how this is where the immigration system differs from the criminal justice system. People who are arrested and go through the criminal justice system are provided a public defender, whereas the same setup doesn’t exist within immigration rights.

Immigrants are left to find their own attorneys, which is difficult if they do not know the language or don’t have the money to post bail or hire an attorney.

“That’s what we see over and over in Iowa is people left without legal representation,” Johnson said.

The immigration system is old and out of date, Johnson said. For many people even before they got arrested, citizenship was not an option. Now, it is up to lawyers to scramble and put a case together.

“There’s a lot of violence in Central America that is causing (people) to migrate,” Johnson continued. “Migration is a human right, and the reality is the system we have is not in line with any of those real factors. That’s why we see people that make desperate decisions, usually for the sake of their families, and choose to do something that maybe any one of us would maybe choose to do.”

Ken Brown, director of the Fellowship Cup in Mt. Pleasant, offered his assistance to the families rocked by a sudden absent parent. Brown said the Fellowship Cup exists to serve anyone in the community who is underserved, and they will not ask for proof of identification, just proof of Henry County residency.

Brown assured they will not report anyone to the authorities and that no one should be in fear of using their services, which includes rent assistance, utility assistances, a weekly food pantry and a summer lunch program, to name a few.

“They lost their primary wage-earners. In a few weeks, they’re going to have a hard time making rent,” Hegar said. “We understand the path to citizenship is hard, if not impossible,” he added.

Hegar said none of the arrested men have been transported out of the state of Iowa that he knows of.

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