Willmar boy facing deportation won't stand alone against ICE

The deportation case of a 10-year-old Willmar boy who appeared in court earlier this year and told of his fear in the face of an immigration raid has been unified with the case against his parents.

Federal immigration officials have questioned the handling of Sammy Diaz-Maldonado's case, in particular the decision by his lawyers to have the boy appear in court hearings, in some cases by himself, even though it's not necessary.

Sammy, a fourth-grader, was arrested in April in a roundup in Willmar that snared 49 immigrants who were allegedly living in the country illegally.

"It's sad when grown ICE agents seek to treat a child like that."

The boy came to symbolize the impact of the raids in the west-central Minnesota town when he spoke about his ordeal in court and to reporters in October, recalling how he had been scared and nervous when immigration agents burst into his home. His lawyers claim that the agents pulled Sammy away from his mother and questioned him for about a half hour, speaking in English so his mother wouldn't understand what the agents were saying.

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"It's sad when grown ICE agents seek to treat a child like that," one of his attorneys, Gloria Contreras-Edin, said Friday.

The ICE disputes those claims and says its agents carried out the sweep properly. Of those arrested, 18 had criminal convictions, six had deportation orders and 25 had no criminal history but were living here illegally, according to the agency.

Moreover, the agency again said before Friday's hearing that it was unusual for such a young boy to be having his own hearings and questioned why his attorneys were presenting the case in such a manner.

"I'm not going to speculate as to why they are doing it, but it's very odd to keep this little boy's case separate from his parents," agency spokesman Tim Counts said.

In most cases, Counts said, families are kept intact in immigration cases when young children and their parents face deportation. He also said the judge has determined that Sammy doesn't need to miss school to appear in court.

Sammy was back in court Friday, this time with his parents.

Contreras-Edin said he chose to join them for the two-hour trip from Willmar to Bloomington. "He doesn't like to be away from his mother, specially when ICE agents are around," she said.

However, she said Sammy's case will no longer be handled separately from his family's case after the judge consolidated the two. She also said it's not so unusual for young people to have their own immigration hearings and said that she has represented a handful of teenagers who are on their own in deportation proceedings.

Contreras-Edin is the executive director of Centro Legal, a legal services group that serves the Latino community. She has argued that statements given by a scared child without a parent present are inherently suspect and should not be admitted as evidence.

Immigration Judge Kristin Olmanson has yet to rule on that request.

In a separate court proceeding, Sammy is one of several children listed in a lawsuit Centro Legal filed on behalf more than 50 Hispanics who claim their rights were violated during the Willmar sweep.