VIDEO: Immigration debate hot

Published 10:29 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“You are being lied to, people,” Ruthie Hendrycks told her audience Monday night.

The founder and president of Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform, Hendrycks’ statements were met with enthusiastic applause as she and other immigration reform supporters voiced opinions and encouragement at a Town Hall Meeting at Oak Park Mall in Austin.

About 120 people attended the forum, hosted by the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction, to listen and ask questions of speakers about the most controversial issue in Austin today: the inundation of immigrants in the community as well as nationwide.

Several entities came under fire during the discussion, including the Welcome Center, the City of Austin, local media and corporations like Hormel Foods.

Sharon Thiel was hesitantly critical of the discussion she was hearing Monday night.

“I understand what they’re trying to do,” said Thiel, wife of Brian Thiel, GOP candidate for the House seat in District 27B, after some careful thought. “We do need some change in the enforcement that’s in effect.”

Fed up with lack of enforcement and unsecured borders, panelists rallied citizens to “not give up.”

Thiel said she believes the forum tended to “lump people together,” and appeared to lean toward propaganda.

“I don’t think Minnesota is used to the influx of culture,” the Chicago native said. “I think 100 years ago, it was the Lutherans and the Catholics. It sounded slanted — I was a little concerned about that.”

In addition to Hendrycks, other panelists included Susan Tully, Midwest field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and Dell Erickson, author and educator.

“Minnesota is the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the U.S.,” moderator and Minuteman Ron Branstner told the audience.

Hendrycks pumped up the crowd as she began the discussion.

“We have the Constitution of the United States of America … that’s why we are a democracy,” she said, followed by applause. “I have a problem with the Constitution and our laws not being enforced.”

Corporations were targeted as illegal immigration enablers, providing “cheap labor” instead of employing U.S. citizens for higher pay. Hendrycks said allegations that corporations hire immigrants because Americans won’t do those jobs is a deception.

“There are Americans doing these jobs,” Hendrycks said.

“Who was doing these before?” she continued, prompting cheers from the audience.

Audience members questioned why Hormel Foods has never been raided for illegal immigrants, when other plants, like Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, have.

“Three times raids were scheduled, and every time, a directive straight from Washington, D.C. called that raid off,” Hendrycks claimed Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said.

Amazi was not available for comment.

Tully said that Minnesota is one of the biggest draws in the county for illegal immigrants.

“You have the highest benefits,” she said.

The discussion moved to the City of Austin itself, and whether or not Austin is a “sanctuary city” — a community that prohibits law enforcement from inquiring citizens about their legal status.

“How many of us can break a crime and get away with it?” Hendrycks said, followed by a roar of appreciation from the audience.

“This is ludicrous,” she proclaimed. “If we do not enforce our laws, anarchy is going to come.”

The panelists said although the City of Austin does not consider itself to be a “sanctuary city,” they believe it is one because of its policy.

“What do you see happening?” Hendrycks asked. “Give ‘em hell, but be careful when saying Austin is a sanctuary city.”

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm was not available for comment by deadline today.

Panelists said they support the 287(g) program, a partnership through Immigration and Customs Enforcement that authorizes law enforcement to enter into an agreement to “perform immigration law enforcement functions.”

“You can ask — once they’re trained — their legal status,” Branstner said. “They are allowed to fingerprint you and put it in a data base.”

Hendrycks said the issue of illegal immigration is not liberal or conservative.

“We are all united in this cause,” she said. “Once we have stopped the invasion … we can go back to our partisan bickering.”

The Welcome Center, a non-profit founded in 2000 to address “medical, social, community, legal, financial, educational and other needs,” was highly criticized, with Branstner claiming the organization receives millions of dollars in federal support.

“You need to shut the Welcome Center down,” Branstner told the crowd. “They’re getting funded from open border groups.”

One audience member demanded to know where they got information about the Welcome Center’s funding.

Branstner said he had researched it, but was not able to provide documentation at the forum.

Coincidentally, the Austin City Council slashed its funding of the Welcome Center by 50 percent to $7,500 at a Monday night meeting.

Local and nationwide media was scrutinized as well, with panelists claiming newspapers won’t print letters to the editor regarding illegal immigration and articles are biased toward pro-illegal immigration.

“There are some things you can do to get around the closed media,” said Erickson, a self-proclaimed “curmudgeon for population stabilization.” He praised MCFIR for flying a banner over local county fairs saying “Keep America Great Deport Illegals” and encouraging supporters to write letters.

Escalating crime, the housing crisis, failing economy and more were partially attributed to illegal immigration. Branstner reported that crime in Austin increased 60 percent in 2006 alone.

“Twelve to 20 million illegals abandoned their country,” Hendrycks said. “You are here tonight fighting for your country.

“Crimes will increase,” she predicted.

Erickson said the problem with Mexican illegal immigrants is they are sending money earned in the U.S. back to their families in Mexico, where drugs, crime and corruption are rampant.

“You’re either born into wealth or you’re not,” Tully said of Mexico. “There is a very corrupted side of Mexico that pushes people over the border.”

The panelists encouraged citizens not to give up their fight against illegal immigration.

“We have to unite. We have to peacefully rally,” Hendrycks said.

“Show up with this many people to an Austin City Council meeting,” Tully said.

Denny Olson, an Albert Lea resident and member of MCFIR, said after the forum the illegal immigration issue is not a matter of color.

“There’s only one color — it’s called green,” he said. “This is the motivating factor. It isn’t just our southern borders.

“They’re breeding like crazy,” he said.

Olson said he is a former bus driver, and drove thousands of miles to Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D.; many of the passengers were immigrants.

“I’ve seen them on the bus,” he said.

Olson believes solving illegal immigration is simple.

“We’re trying to make it too complicated,” he explained. “It’s like us against them.”

Sen. Dick Day, R-Dist. 26, said he attended the forum because he believes it is an issue of concern for people.

“If someone looks at a crowd, you can tell how important it is,” he said. “It’s a big issue, and no one wants to talk about it.

“In Austin, for some reason, there seems to be some animosity against the Hormel Corp.,” Day said. “These companies are going to have to come forward.”

To learn more about the issue, Day said he spent three days with border patrol in Arizona, and that he supports instituting biometric cards — tamper-proof national I.D.s to prevent fraud and verify country of origin.

“The solution is to secure the borders,” he said. “It’s going to be a big issue in elections.”