Emotions are running high in the Wood River Valley in the wake of a federal immigration raid earlier this month that led to the arrests of 22 suspected illegal immigrants. Many people applaud the raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while others allege that ICE officers were abusive and violated civil rights.
"Reports of any sort of abuse are just false," ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said Tuesday. "This was a standard routine fugitive operation. The team is extremely well-trained to go after fugitives. They are very professional, and they treat everyone with respect."
Leo Morales, a community organizer with the Idaho Community Action Network in Boise, sees things differently.
"We gathered testimony and it's clear they terrorized the community," Morales said Tuesday. "At this point we're continuing to work with community members who have been traumatized. There are some cases where children are afraid to go back to school."
The ICE raid on the Wood River Valley occurred on Saturday, Sept. 15, when 11 officers from an ICE Fugitive Operations Team out of Boise descended on the valley in search of alleged fugitive illegal immigrants. Arrests were made in Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue.
Rusnok clarified earlier reports that said the ICE officers were looking for convicted felons who are in the U.S. illegally. Actually, the ICE fugitive teams seek any illegal immigrants who have been ordered to leave the United States and haven't complied. In the course of the raids, agents will arrest other suspected illegal immigrants that they encounter, he said.
Rusnok provided the following breakdown on the nationalities and reasons people were arrested during the raid:
·Thirteen of the 22 are Peruvian, and the other nine are from Mexico.
·ICE had fugitive warrants on four of the people arrested. Three are Peruvian and one is Mexican. Of the four, three had ignored previous orders to leave the U.S., and one had prior convictions for providing false information and resisting arrest. The remaining 18 were people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
·All nine of the Mexicans arrested have returned to Mexico. Eight left voluntarily, and one was deported.
·Seven Peruvians remain in ICE custody in Florence, Ariz. Five others have been released on bond, and one, the only woman arrested in the raid, was released on "humanitarian grounds" because she has small children to care for.
Rusnok declined to release the names of the suspects, saying that current ICE policy precludes the identification of people arrested for administrative or non-criminal reasons.
Public opinion on the raid seems to be divided. Comments on the Idaho Mountain Express Web site are about even for those supporting the raid and those alleging violations of civil rights by ICE.
"One of the things I'm concerned about is the reports of violations of civil rights," said Jack Van Valkenburgh, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. "I don't know how many are true, but we get these reports. We're interested in what ICE did and if there were any violations."
Morales said his office was flooded with complaints following the raid. He said some 150 people attended a public meeting called by Idaho Community Action Network in Hailey following the raid on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
"These are community members who for the most part have not committed a crime except to come into our country to get a job," Morales said. "If those are the type of people that ICE goes after, then I think there's something wrong with our system."
Sheila McLean, an East Fork business owner, offered a different perspective.
"I've probably talked to 20 or 25 working class people who are happy that ICE was here." McLean said. "Maybe it will improve the crime rate in the valley. There were rights violated, it appears, and that's not right. However the program to me is commendable."
Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she became involved in the issue because of concerns expressed by Guido Loyaso, the Peruvian consular general in Denver.
"I'm just trying to get people to talk to each other," Jaquet said. "It seems to me that the conclusion is that Congress really needs to do something about the immigration bill."