Glenwood Springs' Strawberry Days festival has been an area staple for more than a century, and this year's edition featured train rides, a pirate-coloring contest, a pie-eating challenge and a search for a "Glenwood Idol," among many other scheduled events. But one happening wasn't announced in advance: a raid by representatives of the Garfield County Sheriff's department and the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office that ended with at least one man in custody.
"It was an amazing violation of ICE's own policies," argues Brendan Greene, Rocky Mountain region coordinator for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. "The policy says not to do operations in sensitive locations where families and children are present. And you can't get any more sensitive than a county fair. It's one of the biggest events of the year in communities all over the area."
Of course, the demographics of those towns could have made Strawberry Days an irresistible target to agencies looking for undocumented residents. "A lot of them are 40 percent Latino," Greene notes.
ICE continues to insist that it's targeting criminal aliens -- an emphasis of its announcement about the recent arrest of 2,400 illegal immigrants nationwide, including 78 in Colorado. But Greene sees the Strawberry Days action as contradicting that approach.
"It seemed more like a dragnet operation than targeting specific people who might have an outstanding record," he says.
A CIRC photo of dwindling crowds after Julio Alvarez was taken into custody.
By way of example, he tells the story of Cesar and Julio Alvarez. "Cesar has a completely spotless record, and he's been in this country for many years. He's a single father -- his wife passed away when his kids were young, and he and his brother, Julio, have been working together to raise the kids" -- four of them, including eleven-year-old twin daughters. "He's tremendously responsible, very involved in the local school, doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and is very much about taking care of his kids on a daily basis."
On Father's Day, the kids were in the festival's bouncy castle when Cesar and Julio were approached by a pair of Garfield County deputies. "They claimed to be investigating a crime on Friday that doesn't show up in any police reports," Greene maintains. "And because of their trust in local cops, Cesar and Julio started answering questions. But when the deputies took them behind the fun house, there were two ICE agents -- so basically, they led them into a trap."
Both Cesar and Julio were questioned by the ICE reps at an RV parked at the back of the fair, with Julio -- who Greene says "definitely doesn't fit the bill of being a criminal" -- subsequently taken away for processing at a Glenwood Springs detention center.
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Julio's wife Lorenza, who's seven-months pregnant, was so shocked by this turn of events that she had to be taken to an area hospital. Meanwhile, word of the illegal immigrant hunt quickly spread among festival attendees -- no surprise given the RV and "reports we heard about deputies chasing people through the crowd," Greene says. As a result, plenty of people fled from the event, seriously reducing the size of the throng.
Greene now wonders if Latinos will steer clear of other summer events in the area for fear of being profiled, hassled and potentially arrested whether they have serious marks on their record or not. In his words, "This has had a chilling effect on the entire community."
More from our Immigration archive: "Immigration: Fear and hope at forum prompted by raid at Morgan County's Wildcat Dairy."