This week's immigration raid on Wildcat Dairy led to eleven arrests, with nine additional workers sought, as well as the announcement that 89 percent of employees weren't authorized to work in the United States. But Damaris Cooksey, a Fort Morgan-based volunteer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition says the impact of this action is reverberating well beyond those in custody or targeted by authorities.
"There are people who aren't going back to work at the dairy, or other dairies, who were not arrested, because they're afraid to go back," Cooksey says. "So there's more than twenty families affected. There are other wage earners who won't be working because they're afraid of deportation as well. There's a lot of fear in the immigrant community, whether people are documented or undocumented."
According to Cooksey, law enforcers had a list of names when they blocked the Wildcat entrance on Wednesday. "They didn't take any information from the office," she maintains. "They had warrants for twenty people, and workers were asked to show their ID as they came to work or left work. If they were on the list, they were taken, and if they weren't on the list, they were allowed to go in or out, and they told them, 'No one needs to be afraid.' But they're afraid anyway.
"I got a call from someone the next morning saying, 'What other dairies are they looking at?'" she continues. "And obviously, the sheriff is not going to be forthcoming with that information. So people working at farms and dairies all over the area are filled with fear -- and people are saying they're going to leave the community because of it."
In Cooksey's view, the raid contradicts Obama administration claims that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focusing on criminal aliens. "These aren't people who've been convicted of grand larceny or some serious crime," she allows. "They're not selling drugs or committing robberies. They're working."
Moreover, she doesn't believe any legal workers are standing in line waiting for their positions.
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"Yes, we've had a great financial crisis in this country and there are lots of people out of work," she concedes. "But agriculture is an industry that struggles to find labor, because American kids do not aspire to milk cows from midnight to eight o'clock in the morning, which is what a lot of these people were doing. We need unskilled manual labor in this country, need people who are willing to clean hotel rooms and landscape yards and milk cows in order to keep our economy going. And the fact that this is a better life than where these people came from is amazing to me. They're not here to rape and pillage. They're here to work and send money home."
The immigrant community in Morgan County isn't homogenous, she points out: "There's a mixture of East Africans, Eastern Europeans and Latinos not just from Mexico but from Guatemala, El Salvador and a lot of other places." One of her missions as a CIRC volunteer has been to help people from far-flung locales learn to relate to other immigrants and realize that they've got more in common than they might initially believe.
The raid taught this lesson in a far harsher way. "Some of the people from the dairy called me after immigration was there," Cooksey says, "and even though they weren't arrested, they said, 'We're moving.'"
More from our Immigration archive: "Protest planned for Jeanette Vizguerra, community leader and mom facing deportation."