For most Americans, Dec. 12 bears no particularly significance. But for most of the 1,200 immigrants rounded up on Dec. 12, 2006, including 230 in Worthington, Minnesota, it was a less-than-happy celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“The Lady is an icon of protection,” said Susana Delon, a private attorney, who was hired by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union that represents most of the Swift & Co. employees.
Some 500 years ago, an indigenous Mexican saw the Virgin Mary near Mexico City and asked her for favors. Millions of people around the world do the same on this day every year.
What happened this year in Worthington and another five cities throughout the Midwest was no celebration, but a cause for confusion and fear.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) stormed six Swift plants around the country because some workers may have used stolen identities. But at this writing, only 65 of the 1,200 people arrested are charged with identity theft. None of those detained in Minnesota were charged.
Those rounded up were shipped to Camp Dodge, Iowa, and a South Dakota detention center. Some may have already been deported, according Delon.
At Camp Dodge, a military facility, Delon and other attorneys said that they were sometimes denied an opportunity to interview their clients, and at other times were ordered to leave before talking to every client.
ICE public affairs officer Richard Rocha denies the accusation.
“We’re doing everything we can to let attorneys meet with their clients,” he said in a telephone interview from his Washington office. He also said that he has no knowledge of people already being deported, saying that it takes far longer to process them for removal.
The ICE set up a second toll free number today, saying that information of immigrants’ whereabouts can be found there. (The numbers are 800-341-3858 and 800-347-2423.)
An army of volunteer lawyers and immigration activists said immigrants were not treated well. “People have been treated like a trash,” said Alondra Espejel, who works for Minnesota Immigration Freedom Network.
Espejel said that many U.S.-born children have skipped school, fretting that they may be detained. Even some legal workers are fearful.
“People are devastated,” said Marco Fernandez, editor of La Prensa, a Latino publication in Minneapolis. “Some people have sought refuge in churches.”
But ICE released and continues to release people with legal documents, as well as some parents whose children have no one else to care for them.
Swift & Co. said that they are also confused. They’ve been using a government-sanctioned pilot system that detects fake documents since 1997. And in 2002, they were fined $187,000 for what the Justice Department said was pushing the envelope to the limit when verifying the legal status of immigrants.
Rocha, the ICE spokesman, said that all they’re doing is “enforcing laws passed by the Congress.”