Sunday, December 2, 2007

INB 12/2/07: Raids Protested in Idaho

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 29 - December 2, 2007

1. Raids Protested in Idaho
2. Roofers Arrested in North Dakota
3. Missouri Cafeteria Workers Indicted
4. Kentucky Restaurant Workers Arrested
5. Detention Center Protested in Tacoma
6. Canada Rules US Not Safe for Refugees

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A US Border Patrol official confirmed on Nov. 13 that agents investigating human smuggling on commercial bus lines arrested more than 100 illegal immigrants in the area of Twin Falls, Idaho, over the past week. The number of people arrested was later confirmed to be 108. Alex Harrington, spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Havre, Montana, said the ongoing operation was not coordinated with unconfirmed reports of repeated strikes over the past week by immigration agents at other locations, including malls and a bank.

The operation stemmed from a tip from Greyhound bus officials who complained to local Border Patrol agents that sometimes a single person would purchase more than 10 tickets at once. The Border Patrol concluded that human smugglers appeared to be using local bus stations as hubs for transporting immigrants around the country. "With the increase of agents on the southern border (of the United States) there have been concerns that some of the smuggling traffic is moving up north," said Harrington.

It was unclear why the operation was carried out by Border Patrol agents, who generally operate within 100 miles of the border, rather than by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which generally handles interior enforcement. Twin Falls is some 600 miles from the Canadian border, and more than 700 miles from the Mexican border. It was also unclear how agents approached passengers on the buses. Local activists say agents used racial profiling to target immigrants. "We don't do profiling," Harrington claimed.

A spokesperson for WinCo Foods supermarkets said on Nov. 12 that on "several occasions" over the prior week immigration agents had detained "a number" of unauthorized immigrants at one of the chain's stores on Blue Lakes Boulevard North. Ben Reed, a personality on the La Fantastica Spanish language radio station, based in nearby Rupert, Idaho, said one of the raids at WinCo sent immigrants fleeing into the stockroom. Agents later hauled them out. The most recent raid at WinCo, he said, happened on the night of Nov. 12. An ICE spokesperson in Seattle, Lorie Dankers, declined to confirm whether the agency had carried out any enforcement operations at WinCo.

The community responded to the raids with a Nov. 14 organizing meeting at a Twin Falls church and public protests at Twin Falls retailers--including a small demonstration against the raid in the parking lot at the WinCo Foods on Blue Lakes Boulevard North-- among other efforts. [Magic Valley Times News (Twin Falls, Idaho) 11/14/07, 12/2/07]

Harrington, the Border Patrol spokesperson, said protests and complaints from Twin Falls have prompted officials in Washington, DC to rethink further widespread sweeps in south-central Idaho. "This operation has definitely stirred up a lot of rumors, a lot of activities," said Harrington. "It's probably not going to be done again--probably not. We were only told to hit the bus lines. Stay on them. These guys [Twin Falls-based Border Patrol agents], they have families. They do what they're told."

"I can safely say the agents conducted their operations only around the bus lines because if they were not, they could face disciplinary actions," Harrington said, adding that the agents have assured him they did nothing more than follow orders.

Local resident Alicia Martinez said her husband Elias Aguilar-Martinez, who worked full-time at a dairy, was arrested by Border Patrol agents on Nov. 6, three weeks after the couple married. Aguilar-Martinez was later deported to Juarez, Mexico. "The sole reason they stopped him was his dark skin color," Martinez said. "They are targeting these people." "They thought he looked like what an illegal immigrant looks like," Martinez added. "They said if you don't sit down and shut up we can seize your jointly owned vehicle. I'm an American citizen. I was born here--in San Diego, California."

On Nov. 8, two Border Patrol agents stopped Eric Valencia, a Washington state native now studying at the College of Southern Idaho to become a paramedic, and scrutinized his documents outside Ridley's market in Jerome. Agents questioned his valid Idaho driver's license, but let him go after 30 minutes. Valencia says he has considered suing the Border Patrol for what he considers racial profiling. He says he must have been singled out because of his race--and the fact that he was wearing a jacket with a Mexican national emblem.

ICE spokesperson Dankers said that by using their "knowledge, their training and experience," agents can appropriately question people on "reasonable suspicions." Dankers insisted: "It's just not profiling."

"Border Patrol says it's very good at picking out people on their demeanor and the way they dress," said Twin Falls Planning and Zoning board member Gerardo Munoz, who was just elected chairman of a citizen committee. "And I am saying I don't care how good you are. You are already establishing a profile when you say I am really good at picking out somebody." [Magic Valley Times News 12/2/07]


On Nov. 7 and 8 in Fargo, North Dakota, state officials arrested at least 31 workers (33 according to some reports) suspected of being in the country without permission and handed them over to the Border Patrol. The workers were repairing roofs at five homes in the Fargo area--about 150 miles south of the Canadian border--where a Sept. 21 hailstorm damaged hundreds of homes. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said it's common for contractors to flock to an area after a severe storm. State officials inspected the worksites to check roofing contractors' compliance with state regulations. Most of the arrested workers were employed by subcontractors at three job sites overseen by out-of-state companies which were licensed as North Dakota contractors after the storm. "[Y]ou can't drift into North Dakota, claim you have no employees and yet then have subcontractors involved in the work who aren't complying with the laws," said Consumer Protection Director Parrell Grossman.

Four workers were arrested at a site managed by a North Dakota company, All Seasons Roofing of Bismarck. Eight workers were found at a site overseen by E Mastercraft Exteriors of Roscoe, Illinois. Seven workers were arrested Nov.7 at a site overseen by E Greenhaven Exteriors of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. Greenhaven issued a statement late on Nov. 8, saying that its local subcontractor has a proven record of hiring legal, documented workers. "Many of our subcontractor's Hispanic workers are legally working in the United States, have the appropriate documentation and they are good and decent hard working people," said Bear Deardorff, Greenhaven's production manager in Fargo, in the statement. A clerical error by Greenhaven prompted the raid, the statement said, and seven workers were detained because they weren't carrying proper documentation on the job site.

Seven workers were arrested Nov. 8 at a worksite managed by the Indianapolis-based CMR Construction and Roofing. CMR Construction and Roofing CEO Steven Soule subsequently issued a two-page statement of apology, saying the company rigorously follows federal and state requirements when hiring new employees or subcontractors. "The problem that we are experiencing, along with thousands of other companies nationwide, is that there is no accurate mechanism for verifying the validity of these documents," Soule said in the statement, which was sent to The Forum, a local newspaper, presumably on Nov. 11.

The detained workers had been with CMR for some time and carried their own liability and workers compensation insurance, Soule said. "We have absolutely no idea how an illegal alien could obtain such insurance coverage, except with very convincing documents," he said. "We regret the incident occurred and assure you we are working to make sure it does not happen again," he said. [The Forum (Fargo) 11/9/07, 11/12/07; Associated Press 11/12/07]


In a series of indictments returned by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Missouri, five employees of a firm that contracts to operate the cafeteria at the city's Richard Bolling Federal Building were charged Nov. 7 with using false Social Security numbers to gain employment. US Attorney John F. Wood, Western District of Missouri, announced the indictments; the case was investigated by the Federal Protective Service, a program under ICE. Two of those indicted are Guatemalan women who live in Kansas City, Kansas; three are Mexican men living in Kansas City, Missouri. Each of the five defendants was employed by Aramark Services, the contractor that operates the cafeteria in the federal office building. One of the Guatemalan women left her job at Aramark a year ago. [ICE News Release 11/7/07]


On Nov. 14, ICE special agents based in Louisville, Kentucky, arrested 10 men and five women working at Chinese restaurants in the area. The workers were employed at the Jumbo Buffet in La Grange, northeast of Louisville, and the China Star Buffet and Grill in Bardstown, southeast of Louisville. ICE agents executed federal search warrants at both restaurants as well as residences in La Grange and Bardstown. The workers were being held in ICE custody for immigration violations; they will be placed into deportation proceedings. Ten of them are Chinese; five are Mexican. The arrests were part of an ongoing criminal worksite enforcement investigation which ICE began in December 2006 after receiving a tip that the restaurants were knowingly employing out-of-status workers. [ICE News Release 11/14/07]


Some 50 protesters, many wearing masks and identifying themselves as anarchists, marched in downtown Tacoma, Washington, on Oct. 9 to speak out against the Northwest Detention Center, a privately run 1,000-bed prison holding immigration detainees on the Tacoma Tideflats. The protesters were met by a similar number of police agents in riot gear. Tacoma police arrested two men and a woman on suspicion of disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer, police spokesperson Mark Fulghum said. There was one counter-protester.

"The reason why we're out here today is simply to say that the people inside the Northwest Detention Center are not our enemies," said Tom McCarthy, a protester who helped organize the action. "Our real enemies are people who push things like NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement], which destroys jobs in our country and destroys the livelihood of people in Latin America and forces them to be economic refugees," said McCarthy. [News Tribune (Tacoma) 11/10/07, 11/13/07; News Tribune blog 11/9/07]


Canada's federal court ruled on Nov. 29 that the US breaches the rights of asylum seekers under the United Nations Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture. Justice Michael Phelan cited the example of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained in September 2002 by US immigration officials at JFK Airport in New York while in transit to Canada and deported to Syria, where he was tortured for 10 months under a policy later identified as "extraordinary rendition" [see INB 10/18/02, 11/8/02, 11/7/03, 1/24/04].

The ruling essentially nullifies the three-year-old "Safe Third Country Agreement" (STCA) between the US and Canada, which denies refugees who land first in the US the right to later seek protection in Canada, and vice versa. Under the agreement, Canada automatically sends refugee claimants at the US border back to the US, where they are usually either detained or deported. "... The United States' policies and practices do not meet the conditions set down for authorizing Canada to enter into a STCA," Phelan wrote in his 126-page decision. The court has given both parties until Jan. 14 to make and respond to submissions for an appeal. Until then, the STCA remains in effect. [ 11/30/07]

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