Government

Refugee advocates call for release of men arrested in Iowa for illegally entering U.S.

They also ask for law enforcement to quit cooperating with ICE

Advocates on Wednesday called for the release of three Guatemalan men being held in the Linn County Jail (above) on immi
Advocates on Wednesday called for the release of three Guatemalan men being held in the Linn County Jail (above) on immigration charges. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Advocates for three Guatemalan men charged with possessing false documents and entering the United States illegally demanded their release Wednesday and called on state and local law enforcement to end cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The three — Jose Cerillo Cerillo, Jacinto Cuyuch and Juan Brito — were taken into custody March 4 in what Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement called “military-style raids” in Marion and Cedar Rapids by ICE.

At least one sheriff’s deputy, one Cedar Rapids police officer and one Iowa State Patrol trooper provided perimeter assistance, Iowa CCI member Katie Wilson said at a Wednesday news conference in Cedar Rapids.

Iowa CCI and representatives of the Iowa City Catholic Worker community demanded the immediate release of the men, who Wilson said are accused of nothing more than low-level, routine and non-violent immigration violations.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said the men are being held for on federal immigration issues and for the U.S. Marshals Service on federal criminal charges.

Although family members and those supporting them at the news conference were not practicing social distancing or wearing masks as they spoke, they called on the release of the men because of their concerns about COVID-19.

“State prisons and county jails are inherently dangerous during a global pandemic and ticking time bombs for the coronavirus to go off,” Wilson said. “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

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Cerillo Cerillo, she added, reportedly has been hospitalized for treatment of a heart condition during his incarceration.

The Iowa court system has recommended that non-violent low-level offenders should be released due to imminent risk of infection.

Members of the jail staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who condemned the raids as an “abomination.”

“Surely there is a better use for tax dollars than surveilling hardworking folks in our neighborhoods and carrying out traumatic raids on their homes,” Walker said.

He described the men as “never a threat ... not dangerous criminals (but) hardworking individuals, who, like most Americans, are seeking to provide a better life for their families.”

No local law enforcement agencies should be cooperating with ICE “so long as they engage in these harmful operations,” Walker said.

He called Gardner — a Democrat, as is Walker — “a good man” and hoped he would join the effort to see the federal detainees released.

“And while I know this is a long shot, I would hope Sheriff Gardner would be understanding of our pleas today and lend his voice of support to our campaign,” Walker said. “At the very least, I would hope he would reconsider the jail’s contract with ICE.”

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It’s not clear to Walker whether that’s a decision for the sheriff or the Board of Supervisors.

“The Linn County Sheriff’s Office does not enforce federal immigration regulations nor do we enforce federal criminal violations,” Gardner said. “We merely hold federal contracts to house detainees for both agencies when provided proper legal authorization from the courts to do so.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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