Denver – The arrest of 11 undocumented immigrants at a dairy farm east of Denver has alarmed Hispanics in the area, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, or CIRC, said Thursday.
Wednesday's raid at the Wildcat Dairy in Fort Morgan was the result of a "routine" review of the employment eligibility forms, known as I-9s, submitted by the farm's employees, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
"Our allies in Fort Morgan report fear and confusion from workers and community members in the wake of this 'operation', clearly undermining local integration and community building initiatives," the CIRC's policy director, attorney Hans Meyer, said in a statement.
"It is certainly not worth the costs to localities to detain people for extended periods of time; and the impact in misery to families and the larger community may be immeasurable," he said.
Meyer also complained that immigration-enforcement prosecution "focuses solely on workers trying to earn a living, and not on those who employed them."
ICE said its review of I-9s determined that 53 Wildcat employees - representing 89 percent of the farm's workforce - lacked authorization to work in the United States.
The federal agency conveyed that information to the Morgan County Sheriff's Office and a county grand jury issued indictments last week for 20 Wildcat Dairy employees from Mexico and Central America accused of using forged Social Security and alien registration cards.
Eleven of the indicted workers were apprehended Wednesday and the other nine remain at large. All 20 face charges of criminal impersonation.
"I know many of the families who work in that dairy. They're honest people," said the Rev. Reyes Valenzuela, pastor of a Baptist church in Fort Morgan.
"Now they're afraid and many of them may leave. And the most regrettable thing is that the operation was carried out with the help of the owner of the farm," the Mexican-born minister said.
The CIRC's Meyer said religious and community groups in Fort Morgan will aid the families of the 11 people arrested, who are being held without bail.