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Arrest of illegal aliens a growing trend in northern Minnesota

Two men said to be illegal aliens from Mexico are in custody after being stopped in Babbitt for a traffic violation.

The two men were apprehended Sept. 14 by Babbitt police on a routine traffic stop, according to Lonny Schweitzer, a U.S. Border Patrol assistant chief in Grand Forks, N.D.

The arrests are part of what Babbitt Police Chief Terry Switajewski sees as a growing number of illegal aliens in the area.

``We've seen more Hispanic workers in this area in the last few years,' Switajewski said. ``We've seen more than ever before, although some are tree planters who are legit and working for the government.'

Both men stopped in Babbitt last week were in the U.S. illegally, Schweitzer said.

The driver, identified in Babbitt police records as 22-year-old Juan Alberto Ramirez, is being held in the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth on DUI charges.

In addition to the DUI charges, the U.S. Border Patrol has a detainer on Ramirez.

The detainer means that after the DUI charges are settled, the Border Patrol would take custody of him, Schweitzer said.

A 31-year-old passenger, not identified in police records, is in custody in Minneapolis and facing deportation, said Schweitzer. He has been arrested by the Border Patrol on four other occasions, according to Schweitzer.

The passenger entered the U.S. illegally through New Orleans in February before turning up in northern Minnesota, said Schweitzer.

The passenger claimed he worked for WRS Roofers, a Babbitt roofing and siding firm, said Schweitzer.

Bill Bailey, WRS Roofers manager in Babbitt, said Wednesday he didn't know the men and that they weren't on his payroll.

``They're not my employees,' said Bailey. ``I don't know them and I wasn't here when this happened. They do not work for us. Whoever identified them as working for me needs to go back and check their information. The guy in Thailand claimed to have killed JonBenet Ramsey too, and that turned out to be false.'

The men were arrested at 1:28 a.m. after Babbitt Police Patrol Officer Dennis Koponen saw the vehicle driven by Ramirez cross the centerline on a city street and make a wide turn into a local bar, said Switajewski. The vehicle was also equipped with prohibited colored lights, he said.

St. Louis County sheriff's deputies and Ely police assisted with the arrests.

Neither of the men speak English, said Switajewski.

Later that morning, a Spanish teacher from the Babbitt-Embarrass School, traveled with Switajewski to the St. Louis County Jail in Virginia to serve as an interpreter, he said.

Schweitzer says it's not uncommon for large labor forces to move into northern portions of the U.S. to do repairs following hailstorms or other natural disasters.

``We've made arrests of about 500 people in northern Minnesota and North Dakota this year from different countries,' Schweitzer said. ``It's an issue even in northern Minnesota.'

Lee Bloomquist writes for the Duluth News Tribune which is owned by Forum Communications Company - the parent company of this publication.