Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fearful Hispanic Falsely Suspect Postville-Type Raid In Denison

By LORENA LOPEZ and DOUGLAS BURNS

DENISON -- Several frightened Hispanic families, some crying with kids clearly in the background, made frantic telephone calls to a western Iowa Spanish-language paper over the last two days seeking information on what they falsely believed to be the start of a Postville-style raid in Denison, a community with a burgeoning Hispanic population and heavy packing-house presence.

La Prensa received the first call early Wednesday from a Spanish-speaking employee of a packing house in Denison who said he saw other workers being carted off in handcuffs. That event apparently sparked a rumor and something of a phone tree in the Hispanic community there.

Shortly after the initial call to La Prensa a Denison woman, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed through tears her belief that a raid may be underway. La Prensa received the last two calls -- to this point -- on Thursday from concerned employees.

Tim Counts, a Midwest spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told Iowa Independent that the Sioux City field office -- which has jurisdiction over Denison -- and the Omaha, Neb., office were not involved in any special investigations or raids in Denison.

"We're not conducting any sort of large-scale work site operation," Counts said when told about reports from Denison.

He said the reaction in Denison is not surprising considering the Postville raid is still very much in many people's minds.

"It is quite common for rumors to run rampant after we conduct an operation such as the one we ran in Postville," Counts said.

Counts was quick to point out that it is very possible that individual immigration officers are pursuing specific cases in Denison. The fact that there is not presently a large raid underway doesn't mean ICE is without ongoing presence in Denison.

Another possibility is that Denison employers, fearful of being targeted, are stepping up their own document verification efforts. One major packing house official in Denison who was reached by phone declined to comment on the record but gave no indication that any raid was underway.

(Editor's Note: Lorena Lopez is the editor of La Prensa. Douglas Burns is a fellow with Iowa Independent.)

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