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Anticipated Immigration Raids Have Minnesota Dairy Farmers On Edge


This morning, President Trump also announced that U.S. authorities will start arresting immigrants in several cities, people who are already slated for deportation. They have deportation orders. Immigration authorities have already been active. And in Little Falls, Minn., the enforcement actions in recent months and years have left some dairy farmers short of labor. Riham Feshir of Minnesota Public Radio reports on farmers who support the president but feel the sting of his policies.

RIHAM FESHIR, BYLINE: Little Falls is a rural central Minnesota town of about 8,000 people. The population here is mostly white, though dozens of local dairy farms have for years employed lots of Hispanic workers. They often do the grueling farm labor that dairy farms require seven days a week.

Last fall, a group of those workers was chopping silage on one of the farms when they noticed immigration officers nearby. Some of the workers were immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and were afraid to leave the property, thinking that the minute they did, they could be arrested and possibly deported.

Others here share similar accounts about Border Patrol agents carrying out arrests throughout the county, even though it's well beyond the patrol's traditional jurisdiction - a full 200 miles south of the Canadian border. Still, the presence of white Border Patrol trucks has become a familiar sight in and around Little Falls. One local Hispanic resident, who moved here from Mexico 10 years ago, was stopped by a Border Patrol agent in late spring. Fearing harassment, he requested we not use his name and disguise his voice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish)

FESHIR: He was taking out the garbage when the agent came up to him and asked for papers. The man handed the agent his green card and said he was in the process of applying for citizenship. He wasn't arrested. But he says one of his co-workers was, just outside the town's grocery store when he went there to buy chicken and bread for his family.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish)

FESHIR: According to local dairy farmers, at least seven undocumented immigrants have been arrested here in recent months. They say they've never before seen this level of enforcement. And as the threat of a more coordinated immigration raid looms, this part of farm country remains anxious.

While one of the Border Patrol officers involved in the arrest is stationed in International Falls, near the border, he grew up around here and is familiar with the dairy operations. Local police have called this officer to translate and help facilitate apprehensions. The officer refused to be interviewed for the story.

PATTY KEELING: He knows where the farms are. He knows where the people go. He watches.

FESHIR: That's Patty Keeling. She's with the organization Asamblea de Derechos Civiles - the Assembly for Civil Rights. Keeling and Maria Elena Gutierrez are at a nearby dairy farm today for what's called a Know Your Rights presentation.

MARIA ELENA GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FESHIR: The uptick in Border Patrol enforcement here has prompted these meetings at local dairy farms. Gutierrez tells those gathered that they don't have to speak with law enforcement.

GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish). I don't give you permission to look in my car. I don't give you permission to look in my car.

FESHIR: None of the farmers would speak on the record, expressing concerns over retaliation by federal officials and possibly from some neighboring farmers over their hiring practices. This is happening in a part of rural Minnesota that logged the highest voter turnout for President Trump in 2016.

Now some of these same farmers worry that they'll lose some of the Hispanic workers that they've long relied on to help run their farms. This dairy farmer says he only recently became aware of the crackdown. In response, he sponsored a Know Your Rights meeting for a handful of his Hispanic workers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I didn't realize it was as bad as it was until just recently with talking to some of the local guys. And I figured maybe it's time that I kind of see for myself what is going on. And...

FESHIR: As some of these farmers reach out to try to help their unauthorized workers, a monthly survey of hundreds of farmers nationwide shows that overall support for the administration's policies among them remains strong.

For NPR News, I'm Riham Feshir in Little Falls, Minn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Riham Feshir