LONG BEACH — Backlash against beefed-up federal immigration enforcement was a theme of a fiesta Friday evening at the oceanfront Chautauqua Lodge.
Recurrent raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have left dozens of families disjointed after immigrants were plucked from mostly quiet lives in rural Pacific County to be taken to federal lockups, reportedly shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles.
Robert and Gwen Brake organized the Oct. 20 celebration and benefit to raise money for affected immigrants and their families.
The Ocean Park couple collected a variety of donated items, such as colorful pinatas filled with Mexican candy, art and gift certificates for silent and live auctions. They also lined up people to talk about their experiences under current immigration and border-security policies.
Fernando Rodriguez, of the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, urged people to ask their elected representatives to vote in favor of immigration reform.
“It’s not for politicians to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do that right now,” he told the crowd of more than 60. “You’re here because you care about the community. You’re not here to win a pinata.”
Erin Glenn, a Spanish teacher for Ocean Beach Schools, said she knows of 38 people who were picked up by ICE on the Peninsula in 2017 and 2016. Several others were taken around South Bend and Raymond in the past few weeks.
She told the crowd many were stalked by federal agents who followed them into places, such as post offices and grocery stores to arrest them in public.
“And most sickening to me, in front of their children,” Glenn said. “The fiestas have ended. … The only ray of hope has been the people who’ve come together.”
Sheriff Scott Johnson said he’s seeing a little light after being kept in the dark for months, despite his repeated requests for ICE officials to share certain information with local law enforcement. Authorities in the past few weeks have started reporting the number of arrests made in the county and each immigrant’s age and gender to his office.
However, Johnson said, ICE won’t provide their names or dates of birth. Without those details, he said, it’s hard to verify the activities of federal agents in the county and confirm whether people are getting a straight story from the public agency.
Johnson told the crowd he had looked into two of the 38 arrests Glenn mentioned. He found neither had a criminal background. Both of their records showed “minor infractions,” an insurance ticket and a driver licence violation, the sheriff said.
Journalists, advocates and others have questioned ICE’s transparency and willingness to share information with the public, too.
The Observer has requested records under the Freedom of Information Act that could include more details about the agency’s local activities.
An ICE spokeswoman told the newspaper in August it’d be months before the agency might be able to provide information about arrests made in the county. Even after filing a request and waiting in a long line for it to be handled, the official said, it might reveal few to no new details.
The Observer put in the federal request and later asked the sheriff’s office to provide documents under the state Public Records Act that might shed some light on the circumstances surrounding federal immigration sweeps in the county.
A 2017 analysis of federal records obtained by researchers at Syracuse University found at least 23 cases from the county were open in U.S. immigration courts. It showed 15 pending cases from Raymond and six from the Peninsula.
Some area immigrants are locked up at the for-profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, leaving their families with little to no income for meals and housing, let alone money to post bond for them, Glenn and other advocates said. Parents are struggling to care for children after their partner, often the breadwinner, has been arrested.
Others want to reunite their families after being split up by deportations. They need help with travel documents and expenses, advocates said.
Increased arrests and deportations have left some Pacific County businesses in a pinch too. The shellfish industry has lost experienced workers.
Mid-fiesta, organizer Robert Brake said donations had already exceeded the evening’s $2,000 goal. After the two-hour event wrapped up, money and support for kept coming in from neighbors and others who wanted to do something to help heal communities that have been hurt by strengthened enforcement.
“It’s just inconceivable that a civilized country would be doing this,” said Diantha Weilepp, of South Bend.