UPDATE, February 6, 5:02 p.m.: The Lee County Sheriff’s Office arrested Christian Caneles earlier today for comments he made in his video of immigration officials checking IDs.
Sanford, North Carolina, was like a “ghost town” Wednesday morning, according to a local resident who witnessed a workplace raid conducted by immigration officials at a gun manufacturing company.
The rural town in central North Carolina is home to a sizable immigrant community, and as enforcement actions continue throughout the state, many undocumented people are afraid to leave their homes.
This morning in east Charlotte, an area celebrated for its vast immigrant community, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were photographed detaining people at a CVS Pharmacy. This comes 24 hours after news of a workplace raid began to trickle in Tuesday to advocates in Sanford and organizers with Alerta Migratoria NC, a grassroots, immigrant-led organization that focuses on deportation defense work.
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Immigrant communities on Tuesday reported seeing ICE vans in Sanford. Some of the reports came from workers at Bear Creek Arsenal, the gun manufacturing plant where officers with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) team conducted an enforcement action that led to the detainment of 27 people. Bear Creek workers circulated photos of ICE agents separating workers and conducting interviews with them; these images were shared online by Alerta Migratoria.
A spokesperson from ICE said HSI “arrested 25 individuals on criminal charges and two individuals for civil immigration violations.” Those facing criminal charges will be charged in the Middle District of North Carolina.
Under the Trump administration, there has been a nearly 650 percent surge in workplace arrests and a 300 percent increase in the number of workplace investigations launched. In fiscal year 2018, HSI opened 6,848 worksite investigations compared to 1,691 investigations opened in fiscal year 2017. In April 2018, ICE agents in Tennessee carried out the largest workplace raid in over a decade, targeting undocumented workers from Mexico employed by Southeastern Provision, a meatpacking plant in Bean Station.
In one video that went viral, ICE agents can be seen surrounding Bear Creek Arsenal and checking the identification of anyone trying to leave the property, including Sanford resident Christian Canales, who filmed the video. Canales is a local musician who works the night shift at a nearby company. As a lifelong resident of Sanford and a former worker at Bear Creek, the 27-year-old knows many people who work at the gun manufacturing company. Canales told Rewire.News that when he was leaving his shift Tuesday morning, he received a call from a friend employed at Bear Creek.
“My friend said he was going into work and there was a lot of guys who looked like cops around. He told me he was scared and he wanted to know if I could check it out for him,” said Canales, a U.S. citizen. “I wanted to do what I could to help, but when I got there, the place was already surrounded. I saw people that I knew getting pulled aside by ICE. We are a small community here, and this hurt us. The family members of the people who got taken don’t even know where they are. ICE hasn’t told them where they’re being held or what’s going to happen.”
QuePasa, a Spanish language newspaper in North Carolina, was the first news outlet to report the workplace raid in Sanford around 9:30 a.m. A spokesperson from ICE told Rewire.News the agency was in Sanford executing a criminal search warrant as part of an “ongoing federal investigation.”
ICE has denied the agency does “any type or random or indiscriminate enforcement,” though ICE often detains anyone in the area who is undocumented when it performs an enforcement action directed at one person or group. Bear Creek released a statement saying ICE was investigating “employment that was obtained by either ID theft or fraudulent information.” It is illegal for undocumented immigrants to work in the United States, forcing many to use fraudulent documents to obtain employment. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to local media that it assisted ICE in carrying out the enforcement action. Local residents reported this coordination extended beyond the workplace raid at Bear Creek.
“People told me, and I saw it myself, Lee County sheriffs had checkpoints nearby after the raid,” Canales said. “They worked with ICE, and all of the checkpoints were in places where mostly Hispanic people live.”
Officials with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to Rewire.News regarding the checkpoints, but it appears as if Sanford wasn’t the only North Carolina city that had immigration enforcement conducted in the streets on Tuesday and shared on social media.
More than 140 miles away in Charlotte, ICE agents were seen detaining people on the street. In a live video posted on Facebook on Wednesday morning, a member of the grassroots organization Comunidad Collectiva filmed agents taking a group of men into custody as she tells them in Spanish that they don’t have to speak to the agents or sign any papers.
“ICE conducts targeted immigration arrests every day as part of its ongoing mission to enforce federal immigration law,” an ICE spokesperson told Rewire.News. “ICE has multiple offices in North Carolina and the presence of ICE officers in the state is not new.”
The agency said arrests made at other North Carolina locations are “separate from the criminal investigation and subsequent arrests that took place at Bear Creek Arsenal.”
This latest slate of enforcement comes less than a year after a series of workplace raids in western North Carolina resulted in more than 40 people being detained. In some counties, at least half the people ICE arrested were not the intended targets. In one instance, the agency detained three brothers.
Usually there are only consequences for undocumented workers and not their U.S. citizen employers, but nationwide workplace raids of 7-Eleven convenience stores in January 2018 were intended to “punish employers.”
In June, 19 ICE HSI agents sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen seeking to separate HSI from ICE, concerned that the Trump administration’s fixation on undocumented immigrants was limiting their ability to pursue national security threats, child pornography, and transnational crime.
Canales told Rewire.News immigrant communities are banding together to share information, whether it’s instructions for what to do if ICE knocks on your door or reports of agents in the area.
“It was frustrating to see ICE agents show up in bulletproof vests and go after people who are just trying to work. We’re all supporting each other, but it’s still scary,” Canales said. “It’s so weird here right now, so quiet and calm because people are hiding out. It’s hard to put into words what it’s like. My mother was deported when I was 14, so I know how it feels to have your family taken.”