Blog Archive

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ICE raid shakes Latinos

By Philip Ferolito and Mark Morey
Yakima Herald-Republic
January 21, 2011

YAKIMA -- A day after immigration authorities descended on Ellensburg in a sweep that netted 30 arrests, local groups are trying to settle a shaken Latino community.

Local churches are providing food and money to affected families and have brought in immigration attorneys to offer free legal advice, said Robert Siler, chancellor of the Diocese of Yakima.

"We don't have a tremendous amount of money to do that, but there are some funds available," he said. "We certainly want to support the families as much as we can."

Others are trying to find families that are either hiding or have left home out of fear of another sweep.

"We're trying to locate them now," said Philip Garrison, president of APOYO, a local nonprofit agency that runs a food bank and provides other services for Latino families. "So you've got a lot of terrified people fleeing or hiding."

Early Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents carried out 11 search warrants at 22 locations in and around Ellensburg. The agency said the raids, which were mostly directed at homes, are part of a larger investigation into the manufacturing of counterfeit identity and employment documents.

On Friday, 14 of those arrested -- mostly women -- made preliminary appearances in U.S. District Court in Yakima, where innocent pleas were entered for all and bail hearings set for next week.

Nine of the defendants were indicted on a single count of using counterfeit Social Security or permanent resident "green cards" for pre-employment checks of their immigration status. The alleged violations happened as far back as 2006, according to the indictments.

Three more were charged with the same crime, plus an additional count of falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.

One was charged with being in the United States after having been deported from a California port of entry in 2002.

Court documents available Friday did not explain what led authorities to the suspects. The indictments were filed under seal earlier this month to protect the ongoing investigation.

The most detailed report was filed against a man who was arrested after agents served a search warrant Wednesday at 905 W. Cascade Court, where the defendant lived.

Investigators said they found counterfeit Social Security and green cards that the man had used to get work. The man was granted a Washington driver's license in 2008 using a Mexican birth certificate, according to charging documents.

He had been deported from Los Angeles in 2000 after showing a counterfeit visa stamp in a Mexican passport, investigators said.

The 16 others arrested Thursday remain in custody but have yet to appear in court.

None of the 30 people arrested is facing charges of manufacturing false documents, U.S. Assistant Attorney Tom Rice in Spokane said Friday during a telephone interview.

The investigation is intended to uproot the manufacturer, he said.

Standing in the lobby of the courthouse Friday, Francisco Cuevas, 17, said his 20-year-old cousin Mireya Colazo-Muguia, an assistant to an orthodontist in Ellensburg, was arrested at work.

And he said his friend, Ana Catalina Ruiz Roque, was taken from her home. Now her mother-in-law is caring for her 3-year-old son and her 14-year-old daughter, he said.

"She doesn't have a criminal record or anything," Cuevas said.

The sweep sparked fear in some parts of Ellensburg, a university and farm town of 17,230 residents. Many employees at two local hotels and a hay pressing plant didn't show up for work Friday, Garrison said.

Garrison, who is in contact with some of the families, said he's been told that during the raid, handcuffed children were left outside for a long period of time.

He also said he was told that many children had been left without supervision.

Since the raid, there have been several community meetings to assist families. During the first meeting Thursday night, mostly non-Latino residents upset about "the way their neighbors were being carted off" attended, Garrison said.

But ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said the raid has prompted a flurry of false rumors.

Because she was not present at the raid, Dankers said she didn't know whether anyone was forced to wait outside while their home was being searched.

But no children were left unattended, she said.

"We interview (suspects), we find out if they have children," she said. "We identify if they have family or friends that can take care of the children. It's a very deliberative process where we make sure that no child is left without a guardian."

Ellensburg High School counselors were kept busy Thursday with about 50 students affected by the sweep, said Principal Jeff Ellersick.

On Friday, 16 of those students failed to show up for school, he said.

"Some of them saw their mother or their father or their aunt or uncle get arrested and were not sure of the circumstances surrounding that," he said.

After learning of the sweep from students that morning, school officials had to track down ICE officials at their command station in town to find out if a plan was in place for students whose parents were arrested.

"We're here to help support these kids any way we can," he said.