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Monday, January 24, 2011

Immigration raid shakes up Ellensburg

January 22, 2011

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Latino community in a small central Washington college town nervously hid behind closed doors Friday following an immigration raid a day earlier that resulted in more than two dozen arrests and left relatives scrambling to find child care for the children left behind.

Residents in Ellensburg, about 90 miles east of Seattle, reported raids at several mobile home parks early Thursday. Ellensburg has about 17,000 residents and is home to Central Washington University.

Fourteen people - 13 of them women - made initial court appearances Friday on charges of using false documents or falsely claiming U.S. citizenship, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One was charged with re-entry into the United States after deportation.

Sixteen others were being held on immigration violations at a detention center.

In a statement, ICE officials said the investigation centered on the manufacture and purchase of counterfeit identity and employment documents.

However, as of Friday, none of those arrested faced those charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Rice said.

"Those who create and sell fraudulent documents compromise our nation's legal identification system and provide counterfeit identities to those who may otherwise be ineligible to live or work legally in the United States," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the agency's Homeland Security Investigations in Washington state.

Tearful relatives, some holding sleeping babies, looked on in court in Yakima, as a toddler happily crawled on the floor.

"All of our friends are in there, our families, our extended families," said Helen Lopez. "It's our whole community. And it's all of our women - mothers."

Lopez and her husband, Armando, were still searching for his sister, who had not yet appeared in court. They now are caring for the sister's two young children along with their own four children.

Silvia Barrientos said the trailer park where the raid happened is now empty.

"Very few are left," she said. "They know Mexicans live in the trailer park, and here the agents came."

Barrientos' husband was preparing to go to work around 6 a.m. Thursday when police and immigration agents arrived at the trailer park with guns drawn. She said they were shouting orders and knocking down doors, including her brother-in-law's.

"They're saying they're criminals. They're not criminals," Barrientos said.

Barrientos said her brother-in-law, Gilberto, and his wife were arrested and authorities didn't tell her why. Gilberto Barrientos, she said, has been a pastor at a local church for more than 10 years.

Barrientos said she was asked to take in Gilberto's 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, who she described as being petrified. On Friday afternoon, a family friend had taken them out to distract them. She said they were afraid to go to school.

Michelle Bibich, principal at Morgan Middle School, said no agents showed up at the school Thursday, but that word spread quickly about the raids, worrying the students. About 13 percent of the school's 700 students are Hispanic.

"Our kids, regardless of race and ethnicity, were concerned for their friends and their friends' families," Bibich said. "It was pretty traumatic."

Associated Press writer Manuel Valdes contributed to this report from Olympia, Wash.