The strongest words shared during Saturday's forum on incarceration and deportation at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis were directed at Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek.

Stanek, along with Hennepin County commissioners and Attorney Mike Freeman, were invited to the event by the faith-based coalition group ISAIAH. The officials were called to answer questions about the county's criminal justice system and its relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when dealing with undocumented inmates.

Freeman and Commissioners Marion Greene and Debbie Goettel were present. Stanek was not. "We were told as recently as a few days ago that he would try his best to have one of his representatives here," said Lenny Nelson, one of the event moderators. "At the last minute, they canceled."

Stanek was out of town for another event, according to a Sheriff's Office representative, who said the office is working to schedule a meeting with Stanek and ISAIAH leaders.

About 200 people filled the pews for Saturday's forum, listening to a variety of speakers, including members of ISAIAH, Twin Cities residents and the attending elected officials. The discussion was broad, promoted as an opportunity for audience members to learn more about the topics and keep them on their minds.

The group had two main requests of the county: to strengthen diversion programs while decreasing bails and sentences for low-level offenders, and for the Sheriff's Office to end its involvement with ICE agents.

Hennepin County has been under fire for its interactions with ICE when dealing with detainees passing through its jail system. ICE is alerted whenever foreign-born inmates are booked into the system; sometimes those inmates are detained by ICE as soon as they are released.

Greene, who earlier this year asked U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison to demand more information on this practice from Stanek's office, called it "incredibly real" and a "great extent of collaboration" between both agencies.

"It's my number one priority to work to stop that," Greene said to applause. "We are wasting our tax dollars in coordination with ICE."

Both Greene and Goettel encouraged members of the audience to call their representatives and share their views on both incarceration and the handling of undocumented immigrants.

Freeman said he had not looked at or questioned the procedure between the Sheriff's Office and federal immigration agents. "I don't know what happens there. I think I probably need to find out," he said following the forum.

One woman's story

Several residents shared their experiences with ICE or the prison system during the forum.

Nirvana Sanchez, a 19-year-old from Minnetonka, joined the U.S. Army National Guard in 2015. Her father, she said, was detained by ICE a month ago in the same building where she was sworn in.

"In the same building where I pledged to serve my country in its armed forces, my country has now declared the intention to tear my father from us," she told the crowd, holding back tears.

Her father had been charged, but not convicted, in a previous case, she said. He had told the authorities his country of origin and was detained by ICE after he was released from jail.

"My father is all my brothers and I have," she said. "If my father is deported, I would need to give up my dream of going to college."

Freeman took the church stage following Sanchez.

"We need to hear those stories," he told Sanchez. "You're entitled to be treated much better, and I'm sorry."

Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753