MOUNT PLEASANT — A week after his arrest in an immigration raid at a precast concrete manufacturing plant, Nelson Lopez Sanchez has returned home for now to his family, greeted by his sister, niece and nephews with hugs and a home-cooked dinner.
He was one of 32 men arrested May 9 at MPC Enterprises by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials following the execution of a search warrant by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.
Although Sanchez said he had an open case on his immigration status before the arrest, officials told him he was being detained for illegally being in the country.
An official at the Hardin County Correctional Center said Sanchez was held there for immigration detention.
Eight of the arrested men had been released on $10,000 bail apiece as of late Wednesday, according to Trey Hegar, the First Presbyterian Church pastor who is working closely with families of the arrested men. Others are trying to come up with money to post bail; four have not been offered any bail; and still others have signed deportation papers, he said. One has an expedited deportation because of a criminal part.
Those names are being withheld at this time.
According to Hegar, many of them were far along in the process of obtaining citizenship or had unsigned visas at the time of the raid.
Court records that might shed more light on the nature of the investigation that led to the raid remain unavailable.
The arrest was unexpected, Sanchez said through a translator.
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“They had a canine unit and a helicopter,” he said. “Some people got beat up. As they were trying to get away, officers used force to arrest people.”
While he was at the Hardin County Jail, Sanchez asserted, officials tried to make him sign deportation papers. When he refused, immigration agents got mad.
“Agents were very impolite, making racist comments,” he said.
Spokesman for Homeland Security and ICE did not immediately return requests for comment late Wednesday.
Immigration officials also asked Sanchez questions about MPC Enterprises, he said. He would not elaborate in the interview on the nature of the questions or his answers. He said he is unsure if he will be able to return to work at the plant.
Executives at the plant have not returned repeated calls for comment over the last week.
Sanchez migrated to the United States from Guatemala in November 2004, following in his sisters’ footsteps. Sanchez cited corruption of government officials as his reason for leaving.
As Sanchez awaits a judge’s decision on his immigration status, he remains in limbo. With rent to pay on his home in Mount Pleasant and family back in Guatemala depending on his support, Sanchez fears problems ahead.
Another man who had visa paperwork before his arrest is being sent back to Guatemala to get it signed, Hegar said. He will have to pay bail and legal fees and face trial. But if the paperwork is approved, he would be able to become a U.S. citizen, Hegar said.
Others arrested are applying for asylum, he said. If asylum is granted, the men seeking it would be unable to work in the United States for eight weeks until they receive a worker permit.
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Being granted asylum does not ensure someone will later become a citizen. And the cost can add up quickly.
While there are several avenues to seeking asylum, people who seek temporary protected status have to reapply every 18 months. Those who fall under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals must reapply every two years. Each program costs about $500 per application, said Erica Johnson with American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines.
Many asylum-seekers are fleeing violence in their home countries.
Johnson said that, as of Tuesday, some of the men arrested still need to see lawyers.
“The next step is making sure people have access to legal representation,” Johnson said, pointing out that those arrested because of immigration status are not appointed public defenders. “Folks don’t have an attorney appointed to them and ICE tries to manipulate that quickly. We’re trying to hustle and see if we can get pro bono attorneys to visit with people.”
Johnson, who spoke at a community forum last week in Mount Pleasant, said it is encouraging to see the outpouring of support. But she also finds it heartbreaking.
“We expect to see that for natural disasters — floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, shootings,” Johnson said. “What’s particularly heartbreaking is community coming together to support families who have been devastated by this U.S. government action.”