Enforcement action at Arcata flower grower is part of ongoing ICE investigation
ARCATA, Calif.- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents executed a federal search warrant here this morning at the local headquarters of one of the state's major wholesale flower growers, The Sun Valley Group, arresting 18 illegal alien workers on administrative immigration violations.
Today's arrests are the result of an ongoing investigation that originated with a call to ICE's tip line. During the ensuing probe, agents uncovered evidence that some of The Sun Valley Group's workers used Social Security numbers and alien registration numbers that were either fraudulent, did not belong to them, or did not authorize employment. In addition, some of the company's workers are believed to have falsely claimed to be United States citizens or legal permanent residents.
"Employment is one of the key factors fueling illegal immigration, which is why worksite enforcement is a crucial part of our interior immigration enforcement strategy," said Mark Wollman, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in San Francisco. "Every job held by an illegal alien is a job taken from a U.S citizen or legal resident of this area."
All of the illegal alien workers identified during today's operation, including 14 men and four women, are citizens of Mexico. They are being photographed, fingerprinted and processed by ICE. They are also being interviewed to elicit information about possible health, caregiver or other humanitarian issues, and to identify any urgent medical needs. The information aids ICE in making decisions about whether to detain an individual or permit a conditional humanitarian release.
As of late this afternoon, four of those arrested had been released from ICE custody. One of the male workers, who had an extensive criminal record, was turned over to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department based on an outstanding warrant issued out of Southern California. In addition, three men were released initially on humanitarian grounds pending future immigration proceedings. The majority of the remaining illegal workers are expected to be released later today under supervision while they await an immigration hearing.
Any illegal aliens encountered during the enforcement action who have prior criminal convictions or deportations will be transferred to ICE contract detention facilities in northern California and held pending an immigration hearing.
ICE has set up several local phone numbers family members of those arrested can call to get information about their relatives' detention status and the removal process. The phone numbers are: (707) 536-8808, 536-8595 or 536-7470. ICE agents handed out cards with the phone numbers to workers and family members who were encountered at the enforcement location.
Since ICE was established in March 2003, it has dramatically enhanced its efforts to combat the unlawful employment of illegal aliens in this country. So far this fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2007 through Aug. 15, 2008), ICE has made 1,035 criminal arrests tied to worksite enforcement investigations. Of those, 121 are owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees accused of violations ranging from alien harboring to knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The remaining criminal defendants are workers arrested on charges including aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. ICE has also made approximately 4,500 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite enforcement operations this fiscal year.
To help employers build a legal workforce, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a new initiative called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers or IMAGE. IMAGE is designed to build cooperative relationships between the government and businesses, strengthen hiring practices, and reduce the unlawful employment of illegal aliens. The initiative also seeks to gain greater industry compliance and corporate due diligence through enhanced training and education of employers. ICE strongly encourages employers to review IMAGE program materials available at www.ICE.gov
# ICE #
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was established in March 2003 as the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is comprised of five integrated divisions that form a 21st century law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities.
As ICE continued to search and arrest people at Sun Valley today, three people observing the raid from the road by the main entrance linked arms and stood in front of one of the white vans, with most of its windows whited out, as it began to exit the company compound onto Upper Bay Road. The three stood there, facing the van. The front doors of the van opened and two ICE men stood up and leaned out.
The woman in the linked-arm group said, "We're here for peace."
One of the ICE men said, "We're here for peace, too."
Soon, a private security guard showed up to confront the trio. He said, "Let these people out."
I didn't hear what one of the three said, but next the guard said, angrily, what sounded like, "I've saved more people in my lifetime and I'm almost 80 years old." Then something unintelligible. And then, "That's why we're free."
The woman in the linked-arm group said, "But we're not free."
And the guard said, "I know what you want!" He walked away.
One of the three said, "Let's walk down the road," and so they turned around and turned right and walked down the road.
The van, meanwhile, let some cars pass -- the traffic out there on that country road was pretty thick -- and then it turned left, in the direction opposite of the linked-arm blockade, and drove away. But a second ICE van, meanwhile, headed for the exit and, not seeing the human-chain protest, turned right and then sat behind them for a while. The three walked on, the van sat in place. Time passed. The three unlinked and wandered to the side of the road. The van drove away.
Meanwhile, just outside the gate, people gathered: a worried-looking Spanish-speaking man who said he had a friend who worked there; two women who arrived with two little boys to find out what was going on, who then waited, watching, while the little boys played and said, "Hi moto" to passing motorcycles. One of the women said she'd heard about the raid on the radio. She said, "My cousin works here. It's so sad."
Another woman arrived to see if she could find out about a family member. She said, "Everybody's here working to feed their family. Also, everything costs too much: the rent, gas, food."
One woman asked spokesperson Virginia Kice, with ICE, where people were being taken to and if their families had been contacted. Kice told her they were being taken to the McKinleyville Coast Guard station, first, but that ICE wasn't "equipped to process them" there so, at some point, the people ICE determined to detain further would be taken to one of its contracted facilities in the area. The woman said she was a U.S. citizen, but her husband was in the process of applying for citizenship and she wondered if he would be detained. Kice gave her a card for the Friends and Family line, that reads in part: "If you believe a family member, relative or friend has been detained by ICE, please call one of the following numbers: (707) 536-8808; (707) 536-8595; (707) 536-7470."
Several people arrived to join others observing, one of whom identified herself as being with Redwood Curtain Copwatch.
A guy named Victor, an HSU student in the environment and community program, videotaped the events as they unfolded. He was angry -- at what was going on, and at how the media reports, or doesn't report, such things, he said. "I'm a student, I'm a Mexican, and I'm never going to forget it," he said. "I'm here because I'm against the capitalist exploitation that takes place at Sun Valley in terms of pesticide use, and exploitation of immigrant labor. And I'm against the separation of families by federal agents."
A man and woman drove by and stopped, asked what was going on.
"ICE raid," someone told them.
The man said, "Oh. We were just coming here to drop her resume off." And they drove away.
Lauren Beaman, who says she works "as a collective with Redwood Curtain Copwatch," and who'd been at the gate earlier then left, returned with bilingual cards -- Tarjeta de Derechos/Rights Card -- she'd photocopied to pass around to people.
Occasionally, Sun Valley workers came and went on foot through the gate. One woman came out, saying, "Some of the people they arrested weren't even on the list" that ICE agents had. "Everyone who is Mexican they took."
photos by Bob Doran
The federal depart of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement -- aka "La Migra," previously known as the INS -- is staging some kind of huge operation in Arcata. Bob Doran is in the parking lot of Westwood, where something like 10 vehicles are staged. McKinleyville's Dennis Mayo tells KHUM's Mike Dronkers that a huge number of vehicles were staged at Toni's Restaurant off Giuntoli, and have just moved out.
UPDATE: Sun Valley has been surrounded, they say -- big place to surround. One ICE official tells Bob Doran that they are there to execute a search warrant.
UPDATE: While we wait for details, you might want to read up on what has led to this, today. Here's a Blogthing report from Japhet Weeks about the ICE letter that led to Sun Valley cleaning house back in June. Here's the follow-up NCJ cover story .
The key thing to remember: Back then, they insisted that they were at the very beginning of their investigation.
UPDATE: They've rolled in paddy wagons.
UPDATE 11:46 a.m.: Virginia Kice of ICE talks to our Bob Doran and Mike Dronkers on KHUM. It's an ongoing investigation. A number of individuals will likely be taken into custody: suspected immigrants, that is. Company executives were not mentioned. They expect to be there into the afternoon.
Kice will not say how many agents are involved, supposedly "for security reasons." They had "air support" during the operation -- a fixed-wing plane.
"Things have gone very very smoothly so far," Kice says. "The employer has been very cooperative."
Doran has seen three people handcuffed and put into vehicles at the site.
UPDATE, 12:45 p.m.:
ICE's Virginia Kice tells the
that their current warrant authorizes agents to look for individuals living and/or working in the country illegally --
company brass. Not at this time, anyway.
"We don't anticipate any criminal arrests today, but I want to emphasize that this is an ongoing investigation," she says.
UPDATE, 12:50 p.m. : Audio ...
Virginia Kice speaks with Mike Dronkers of KHUM:
Virginia Kice press conference at the gates of Sun Valley:
He came to the Ranch on the Humboldt/Mendo countyline and played a whole lot of songs, his hits and then some. I'm pretty sure everyone went home satisfied -- I did.
Oh yeah, I guess he's running for president .
And Kym the Redheaded Blackbelt has photos and words here ...
Update: Since Carol and Kym dug Priscilla Ahn so much, I'll make it easy for those of you who won't click through to the other pics. Here she is:
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