Ellensburg, WA residents respond to immigration raids
7:59 PM, Jan. 21, 2011 | SHANNON DININNY Associated Press
Those attending the meeting at First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, a city of 17,000 about 90 miles east of Seattle, included faculty members and students from the hometown Central Washington University.
“I have children. How would I feel if it happened to me and they snatched me and sent me somewhere and left my kids behind?” said attendee Raymond Hall, CWU professor of African-American folklore. “Especially if the reason I came here in the first place was to make a better life for them.”
Many Latinos in the community nervously hid behind closed doors Friday following the raids, which occurred Thursday at three mobile home parks.
Thirty people were arrested or detained, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sixteen of those were being held on immigration violations at a detention center.
Another fourteen people — including 13 women, one of them pregnant, and a man who is a longtime church pastor — made initial court appearances Friday on charges of using false documents or falsely claiming U.S. citizenship, One was charged with re-entry into the United States after deportation.
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.
In Yakima, tearful relatives, some holding sleeping babies, looked on in court, 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 was being held on an immigration violation. They now are caring for the sister’s two young children along with their own four children.
Ricardo Gonzalez, 17, fought tears as he watched immigration agents lead away his mother and father in handcuffs, minutes after entering the family’s mobile home in the early morning raid.
Gonzalez said agents also briefly handcuffed Gonzalez and his 15-year-old and 19-year-old brothers.
“My heart was destroyed. I knew my life wasn’t going to be the same,” he said. “I felt bad for my older brother, because he’s almost 20 and he has to take care of a family now.”
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.
She said Gilberto Barrientos has been a pastor at the Iglesia Pentecostal Monte Sinai, a local church for the Latino Community, for more than 10 years. Friday afternoon, several church members gathered in the church’s basement to talk about the raid.
Barrientos said she was asked to take in Gilberto’s 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, whom 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.”
David Ayala, organizing director for Seattle-based OneAmerica, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy group, said his group is sending volunteers to help the families deal with the raid’s aftermath.
“It’s sad how this happened,” Ayala said. “The crimes these people are accused of … they are crimes done because they want to work.”
Associated Press writer Manuel Valdes contributed to this report from Olympia, Wash.