A letter from Willmar, MN - One organizer's story from a community devastated by raids

" I was originally in MN to work with Wellstone Action and the youth organizer at the MN Immigrant Freedom Network to develop youth trainings on immigration issues such as the DREAM Act and also to consult with the Network on their MN youth organizing model. However, in light of recent raids on communities in this area, it became apparent that I needed to stay and do whatever I could to support advocates in helping the families and responding to these outrageous actions taken by the Bush administration.


Over the last few days I’ve been working with the incredible volunteers and community leaders here. We haven’t been able to collect all of the details of the raids and ICE agents are still refusing to disclose any information because of their "ongoing operation".


What we do know is that between Tuesday and Thursday, ICE agents were staying at the Country Inn in Wilmar, MN and were participating in an operation that has detained anywhere from 50-100 people, loading them into buses and vans and then transporting them to the St. Paul, MN county jail. It is said that these agents in both marked and unmarked cars were going house to house, visiting trailer parks, gas stations, and local super markets harassing community members and picking up anyone that could not provide documentation to prove their status. One example of this was released in a report by the West Central Tribune, which reported that ICE agents were harassing shoppers for their documentation in a Wal-mart parking lot. On Thursday ICE agents were also confirmed to be waiting in the Jennie-O factory parking lot until asked to leave by Jennie-O but did threaten to return with a warrant. Jennie-O shut their doors early that evening and confirmed that ICE agents were requesting a list of names of undocumented workers.


The Community’s Response has been strong and united.


So far, a non-profit Raids in Willmar, MN has organized a community meeting to inform the community about the raids and to provide free legal assistance. The entire community, undocumented and not, expressed their fears to return to work, leave their homes and even be home alone because of the raids.


On Sunday, the MN Immigrant Freedom Network was one of the lead organizations that quickly mobilized a very diverse group of about 200 people to a candlelight vigil and prayer in front of the St. Paul county jail, one of the three detention centers, to bring the community together and denounce the raids. With their FIRM "Stop the RAIDS" and "Keep our Families Together" posters, they embraced the testimonies of Willmar community members directly affected by the raids.


One woman shared how ICE agents broke into her home without permission and drug her two relatives away. The woman claimed that the agents continued to drag her son from the home even after she pleaded that her son was a U.S citizen and agents only released him once they were told he was a minor. Another woman gave her testimony of how she helped a woman and her children who were harassed by ICE agents looking for her husband and then followed when they tried to reunite with their father, who was then taken by ICE agents right in front of his family.”


-- Corina Garcia, FIRM Youth Organizer


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