Fears of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Northwest Arkansas were prompted by the sighting last night of an ICE transport bus at the Comfort Inn in Fayetteville, Arkansas United director Mireya Reith reported on her Facebook page.
In response to the fear, state Rep. Nicole Clowney called the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and was told the bus was not there for a raid but to pick up undocumented people being held at the county jail.
Reith posted later that Clowney had spoken with authorities, who confirmed “the bus was one that comes twice a week to pick up people already flagged for ICE detention,” Reith wrote. She also said that Tyson Foods, a major employer of Hispanics, “confirmed that there is no evidence of raids and everything is normal in the plants.”
Washington and Benton counties sheriffs have allowed their personnel to be deputized under Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to turn over undocumented people booked into the jails to ICE.
“I was assured this bus was here to collect detainees,” Clowney told the Times this morning. The 287(g) program “has been an area for concern for a lot of us here. We have called for an end to that program.” She said she believes that only Washington and Benton counties participate in the 287(g) program.
Clowney said she believed people in the immigrant community are “operating in a place of fear right now” after the ICE raid at chicken processing plants in Mississippi to arrest nearly 700 people. ICE did not notify child welfare services in advance, leaving children whose parents had been swept up alone and terrified. NBC News interviewed ICE officials about the lack of notice:
The ICE officials said ICE could not make sure all parents of children had been released or that all children had a safe place to go after school. There were no plans in place to alleviate this risk entirely. “We are not a humanitarian agency, but we are trying our best to ameliorate the humanitarian concerns,” one of the officials said.
ICE officials said they released 30 people at their places of work because of children at home, and another 270 were released within a day. Over 300 immigrants remain in jail.
John Sandweg, the former acting director of ICE during the Obama administration, told NPR’s Ari Shapiro that such raids began at the end of the George W. Bush administration, “where they would go similar type operations, executing search warrants against employers.” From the transcript:
But there’s a secondary goal of these, which was to apprehend as many of the undocumented workers as possible.
We continued, during the Obama administration, to conduct these type of operations but with an employer-centric focus, meaning looking for those employers who are cheating – people who are stealing the identities of U.S. citizens or exploiting the workers, paying substandard wages, threatening to take legal action against them if they complain.
The big difference here, though, was the Obama administration – we were not going to waste resources apprehending people who are showing up for work unless those individuals had a public – some indication that they posed a public safety threat. It takes a tremendous amount of resources to apprehend 600 people, almost all for civil immigration violations, and I would guess that very few of who pose any threat to the country.
SHAPIRO: And so explain why an administration would choose to do that, to do a raid where you would arrest more than 600 people at once.
SANDWEG: Well, from a law enforcement perspective, there really isn’t a good reason. They pulled in over 600 agents from field offices across the country, pulling them away from the criminal investigations they were conducting. I wouldn’t fault the administration at all for going after these employers. I suspect we’re going to find some criminal charges brought against them and that they were cheating. And I think that’s a fair target.
SHAPIRO: But so is this meant to be a symbol. Are they hoping that people will self-deport? I mean, what’s the purpose of something like this?
SANDWEG: Yeah, absolutely, it’s meant to be a symbol. I mean, there was a very aggressive press strategy around this to make as much news as possible. They flew the acting director in. That’s very unusual to be on-site for an operation like this. All of that is done with media in mind. And candidly, you know, bringing 600 agents in to make 600 arrests is done with the media in mind. From a law enforcement operational perspective, you’re just diverting a tremendous amount of resources with very little upside from a public safety or national security or border security perspective.
So ICE goes after hundreds of working men and women for publicity, diverting its resources away from investigating crime. “When ICE conducts operations, where you put your officers is going to really dictate what type of individual you apprehend,” Sandweg said. “And the big problem with these worksite operations that are focused on apprehending the workers is the people you get are the responsible people who are trying to feed their family by showing up and giving an honest day’s work. You’re not going to find your criminals. You’re not going to find your MS-13 members showing up and punching a clock for eight hours a day.”