Fernando Quintero, Rocky Mountain News, September 17, 2007
Controversy over a planned forum on crimes committed by illegal immigrants is fanning ethnic tensions in Greeley, prompting Hispanic community leaders to consider seeking U.S. Department of Justice intervention.
The latest source of division is a meeting organized by the Weld County district attorney called “Illegal Immigration: The Untold Stories.”
Weld District Attorney Ken Buck said the meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, is strictly informational and will detail “how the crimes of illegal immigrants are directly impacting not only the legal system in Weld County but also the citizens in our communities.”
But several Hispanic leaders said the event is racist because it singles out Hispanics and that it is the latest attack on a community under siege by critics of illegal immigration and others.
“This meeting will only serve to further divide this community,” said Priscilla Falcon, a professor of Hispanic studies at the University of Northern Colorado.
“This meeting is about mobilizing white sentiment against the Mexican immigrant community,” she said.
Falcon said the event comes as the Hispanic community begins to recover from the Dec. 12 raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Swift’s Greeley headquarters and five other plants nationwide.
The raid resulted in 261 arrests locally and tore apart a number of families.
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke will talk about how illegal immigration contributes to jail crowding.
A detective from the Greeley Police Department’s gang unit will detail crimes committed by gang members here illegally.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cliff Stricklin will talk about the federal government’s role in combating illegal immigration.
Scope of problem
Buck said the speakers will provide the “nature and scope of what we’re dealing with.”
For example, he said, two years ago, law enforcement estimated that approximately 10 percent of local gang members were illegal immigrants.
He also said between 18 to 22 percent of inmates in the jail are non-itizens, and that a majority are in the country illegally, based on the number of ICE holds.