City: See no sting, hear no sting

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 aren’t in school. “Some of them don’t 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 they’d heard the rumors, Hispanic representatives said they were reality.

“They’re 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 wasn’t conducting its own operation. “This organization, the City of Rockford, isn’t 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 first—information. “(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 you’re 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 city’s population would have decreased, had it not been for the Hispanic community.

Ald. Leonard Jacobson (D-6) said he’d relay the community’s 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 said—more than once—that they should call the police to determine whether a law enforcement officer is legitimate.

Juan Carlos Nunez wasn’t 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, isn’t a viable plan. He said many Hispanic residents fear the police—who are predominantly white. “We don’t even know if we can trust the police,” Nunez said. He also said he felt Morrissey—who denied a sting was taking place—was insulting the Hispanic community’s intelligence. “He told us we were crazy,” Nunez said, referring to Morrissey’s 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 they’d also need to help themselves. “We want to protect our citizens. We want to protect our residents. (But) it’s 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. “You’ve got my pledge. There’s 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 Project—an organization against illegal immigration—was involved in the alleged harassment. E.J. Pagel, a Minuteman member, said he took in part none of it.

“I know I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 city’s protection of the Hispanic marchers and denying the Minuteman Project’s right to free speech is more than a travesty. “I don’t appreciate the double-standard by City Hall. I think it’s going to be an election issue,” Pagel said.

He also said the city’s 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

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