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 400 miles from the Canadian border, and 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, Nov. 14, Dec. 2)
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, Dec. 2)
Detention center protested in Tacoma
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, 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, Nov. 10, 13; News Tribune blog, Nov. 9)
From Immigration News Briefs, Dec. 2
See our last post on the immigration crackdown