StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1146085346563.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey addresses immigrants assembled on City Hall steps after the April 24 City Council meeting.’);
Viva Morrissey! Viva Morrissey!
That chant could be heard from the steps of City Hall after the April 24 City council meeting. Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey addressed approximately 200 concerned Hispanic community members after speaking to a smaller contingent immediately following the meeting.
Go back to your jobs. Go back to your schools. Go back to your lives, Morrissey said.
Some citizens are taking his advice. However, Barbour School teacher Patti Bachmann said half of her students arent in school. Some of them dont even want to get out of their homes, Bachmann said.
Several aldermen joined Morrissey as he addressed protesters outside City Hall. Hispanic community members praised him for listening to their concerns about alleged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity.
While Morrissey and Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson said theyd heard the rumors, Hispanic representatives said they were reality.
Theyre being stopped in the streets, Madeline Velasquez said.
Velasquez also alleged a Hispanic couple was abducted at the East State Street Wal-Mart Sunday night, April 25. She wanted to know what the city could do about it.
But Morrissey said INS officials told him no operation was taking place. ICE Spokesman Gail Montenegro concurred.
We do not conduct random sweeps, Montenegro said.
She said the bureau only conducts planned operations, including one in Florida that netted more than 180 fugitives and immigration violators. Montenegro said those large operations usually prompt rumors of other alleged action.
According to Montenegro, any ICE agent would be properly identified. She said people have a right to request identification. Montenegro said people should report it, if approached by illegitimate agents. She invited people to call 1-866-DHS2-ICE.
Morrissey stressed the city wasnt conducting its own operation. This organization, the City of Rockford, isnt involved in any sting, Morrissey said.
Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson concurred. There is no sting going on, he said.
Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) said the city needed something firstinformation. (The police) need to know what you know, Beach said. He also said the allegations stunned him and that he empathized with the Hispanic community. I would not want to feel like youre feeling, Beach said.
Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) also stressed the importance of the Hispanic community to Rockford. We certainly feel you are viable entities of this community, Bell said.
Morrissey agreed, noting that the citys population would have decreased, had it not been for the Hispanic community.
Ald. Leonard Jacobson (D-6) said hed relay the communitys concerns to Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson.
But one Hispanic citizen said she hesitated to give any information until she knew how the city planned to protect them.
Morrissey saidmore than oncethat they should call the police to determine whether a law enforcement officer is legitimate.
Juan Carlos Nunez wasnt satisfied with that suggestion. I wanted (Morrissey) to come up with something, Nunez said, referring to his desire for a plan. Calling the police, Nunez said, isnt a viable plan. He said many Hispanic residents fear the policewho are predominantly white. We dont even know if we can trust the police, Nunez said. He also said he felt Morrisseywho denied a sting was taking placewas insulting the Hispanic communitys intelligence. He told us we were crazy, Nunez said, referring to Morrisseys denials. He said we all have some connection to immigrants and being a minority.
Julio Delgado said the Hispanic community feels more than unsafe. I think we are being terrorized, Delgado said. He said the alleged activities have had economic impact. According to Delgado, businesses have been forced to close due to the fears. Morrissey stressed the city wanted to help them, but he said theyd also need to help themselves. We want to protect our citizens. We want to protect our residents. (But) its important that we get actual names, Delgado said.
But some wanted assurances the city had a plan to protect them before they gave up any names. Although the city has no authority to get involved in immigration issues, Morrissey vowed to protect Hispanic citizens. Youve got my pledge. Theres going to be follow-up, he said.
Juanita Garcia, who said she was a third-generation American, tried to convey how it felt to see her young granddaughters carrying IDs. I never thought I would see something like this, Garcia said.
Some Hispanic community members alleged the Minuteman Projectan organization against illegal immigrationwas involved in the alleged harassment. E.J. Pagel, a Minuteman member, said he took in part none of it.
I know I didnt do anything, Pagel said.
But he said, fear amongst their community might inspire Hispanics here illegally to leave the area.
He seemed incensed that those marching and protesting were commended for holding a peaceful demonstration. Pagel said that was probably because his group didnt take part. Had The Minuteman Project taken part in the march, he said, it would have begged one question: Who would have gotten out of hand?
He said the citys protection of the Hispanic marchers and denying the Minuteman Projects right to free speech is more than a travesty. I dont appreciate the double-standard by City Hall. I think its going to be an election issue, Pagel said.
He also said the citys argument that it has no jurisdiction to deal with immigration issues holds no water. The mayor is backpedaling on this. The chief is backpedaling on this, Pagel said.
Pagel claims local law enforcement agencies have the power to deal with immigration enforcement.
From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue