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August 13th, 2020

city kathleen alonsoLocal resident Kathleen Alonso talks to the Liberal City Commission during its most recent meeting Tuesday evening regarding recent ICE operations in Liberal. Alonso and others spoke against the operations. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a story recapping the citizens’ comments portion of the most recent meeting of the Liberal City Commission Tuesday evening and will focus on comments relating to recent ICE operations in Liberal. Part two will be a continuation of the discussion that took place on this matter during the meeting. 

The Liberal community was visited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials earlier this week and Tuesday evening, Liberal citizens made their feelings known to the Liberal City Commission about such operations taking place. 

“I come before you on behalf of the immigrant community, which is currently distressed and distraught about the presence of ICE in the community and the Liberal Police Department working with them,” citizen Kathleen Alonso said. “I’ve had people calling me in fear and there are people who haven’t left their homes in the past few days for fear of being detained. I’m 23 years old and when I was 16, my mother was deported and detained in the county jail here. My father had passed away when I was 13 and then after she was deported, I was left without a mother. I was moved from home to home for a few years, even being homeless at one point. The fact that you all are elected officials and have – at least that’s how it feels – turned a blind eye to the issues the Hispanic community continues to face on a daily basis, is bad. They live in fear, they live with the fear of coming home and not having their parents there, they live in fear of losing that source of income and support for their lives, and nothing is being done. As elected city officials, I am here to ask you to do your jobs and help the Hispanic community. The police department, for the past few weeks, has made an attempt to bridge the gap with the community by doing their community walks, but with that being said, as they’re going from house to house and acknowledging where people live and trying to get to know them ... then if they have ICE right behind them, that’s very disheartening and it feels like you don’t care about our well-being. I’m asking for you to do your job and help us and find the resources to help the community not live in fear.”

Local citizen Janeth Vazquez also talked about the recent operations and related parts of her own immigration story to the commission. 

“This is a subject that’s very close to my heart, family separation has affected me since I was 18 years old,” Vazquez began. “My father was deported when I was in my first semester of college and I can tell you it destroyed my family and it has affected me physically, emotionally and in many other ways – seven years later, I still struggle to talk about it because that’s how much it hurts. I can tell you this is a pain many families in the community are going through. We know ICE was in town Monday and some people were placed in deportation hearings and I can tell you, after doing a lot of research, there is a recently established ICE office in Garden City – it started out as a temporary situation but is now set to become more permanent, which means there is a good chance we’ll be seeing more ICE presence in the community. That was confirmed by several attorneys in Southwest Kansas I spoke to and one in Kansas City. With that Garden City office becoming more permanent, what we’re afraid of is there will be more family separations. I’m up here not to be judging or judged, I’m asking for you to have compassion for our families. I can tell you our Hispanic community is terrified right now and we would ask for the police department to not work with ICE and cause firther separation of families. And it’s possible there’s information we didn’t receive and still don’t have about all of this, but with everything that has been going around, that’s how it’s being perceived, that the police department is working with ICE to put people in deportation hearings. And again, that might not be the full picture, but that’s how the community is seeing it. We would like to start this dialogue and it would be great to start some programs for families that will be affected by this process – when it happened with my family, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with.”

Liberal Vice Mayor Taylor Harden then spoke to the gathered audience about the matter. 

“To begin, ICE is a federal entity and we have absolutely no jurisdiction over what they can or can’t do, and any reform that needs to happen needs to start at the federal level, that’s just a fact,” Harden said. “It’s basically impossible for anything at a city level to supercede anything at a federal level, especially with immigration, because it would get overridden instantly. And with the community walks, that was something that had been talked about way before ICE came to the community because Chief Cutshall had that idea so the community would feel more comfortable around officers and see them as a resource and source of help, which is something we all want. When any federal entity goes into any community, there’s typically very little notice of them doing so, and they always ask for assistance from local law enforcement in order for the suspect(s) to have some level of comfort and also because local law enforcement can advise on how to best approach that person so there is a peaceful incident, so I actually do prefer our local law enforcement remain involved in situations like that so those situations do go smoothly and without violence. Realistically, our country’s in a very tumultuous place right now with immigration because all the changes we need to see happen have to start at the federal level, and at this time, there’s just not much of that going on right now. When Commissioner Jack Carlile was alive, he was a huge advocate for immigration as far as reforms and what could be done locally and that was something he brought up frequently when I talked to him.”

Local citizen Megan McElroy then spoke to the commission to give her views. 

“I would like to give my views from a caucasian perspective – most of us in this room are caucasian and we have absolutely no idea to lose our family members in the ways that have been talked about,” McElroy said. “I don’t know what that’s like, I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear and I hate how that is because I’m caucasian, and that’s bull(expletive). We don’t know what that’s like for the Hispanic community. I understand how the federal part of the system works and I understand that’s the law of the land, but I feel like this town needs a lot more compassion. We need more love, we need more compassion. I agree with what was said earlier about having local cops help in order to make people feel more comfortable and so things aren’t so dangerous, but I also feel like that can also be a cause for people to lose trust in the police. In Liberal, I’ve seen nothing but love and compassion from the Hispanic community – my boyfriend’s family is Hispanic and I’ve seen everything his stepfather has had to go through in order to become a citizen. It took him nearly 20 years, and that’s not fair – and then on top of that, there are so many things they have to learn that aren’t even taught to the students in our schools, so again, that’s just not fair. I’m so tired of people not having compassion for immigrants and I would like people to take a minute and try to put themselves in those immigrants’ shoes and feel what they feel – as caucasians, we’re not judged and put under a microscope like they are, and that’s not right at all. I can’t even imagine what goes through the mind of people whose family members get deported and living in that constant state of fear.” 

“From my understanding, ICE was here and arrested four individuals, and they had been actively looking for them because of some past problems, and ICE is set up specifically for those instances, so I’m actually having a bit of a hard time finding they did anything wrong here,” Harden said. “This wasn’t a situation where they arbitrarily rounded up like 50 or 60 people, they went specifically for four people who needed to be talked to. And like I said before, I totally agree the immigration system needs overhauled because it is literally impossible for some people to actually get the needed paperwork and everything else done, but we have to uphold the laws of the U.S. and make it to where the process is easier and more people can become citizens, because if we don’t have that, those effects ripple everywhere, and they aren’t pretty. One of the things I love about this community is how we treat each other so well and how there’s so much compassion for everyone. This conversation is definitely one that needs to be had, but it should be had with those at the federal level since that’s where everything has to come from.”

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