PENINSULA — Neighbors are trying to come up with cash to help families of immigrants who’ve been rounded up in federal raids across Pacific County.
A newly-formed local group, the Immigration Assistance Committee has given more than $4,000 to help eight affected families with expenses, such as rent, food and moving costs, volunteer Sandy Nielson said.
Now, the advocates are asking for help.
So far, the group’s donations have gone to mothers and fathers who are struggling to raise children with little to no income after their spouses were taken from Pacific County by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Nielson, of Nahcotta, said.
Many worked in the shellfish industry. Their families relied upon their incomes. Employers were counting on them too, Nielson said.
Volunteers hope to raise at least $10,000 for affected families through donations at gofundme.com/immigrants-long-beach-washington.
The committee counts 35 immigrants who have been picked up on the Peninsula in 2016 and 2017, volunteer Ann Reeves said on Friday. The advocate from Long Beach said the group has learned in the past few weeks of at least four others who were taken around South Bend and Raymond.
Pacific County has at least 23 open cases in U.S. immigration courts, according to a 2017 analysis of records obtained from federal agencies and courts by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. The data shows 15 pending cases from around Raymond and six from the Peninsula.
Some of those who’ve been arrested are locked up at the for-profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, leaving their families without income for meals and housing, let alone money to post bond for their loved one, Nielson said. Others want to reunite their families after being split up by deportations. They need help with travel documents and expenses.
“These families have been torn apart,” another advocate Robert Brake said. “We can’t sit by and do nothing.”
Brake, and his wife, Gwen, are organizing a celebration of Hispanic culture to help raise money for immigrant neighbors. The Ocean Park couple plans to auction colorful pinatas filled with Mexican candy and other items, and donate the proceeds to affected immigrants and their families.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Brake said. “We’ll make it a little bit of a fiesta in the midst of a tragedy.”
The admission-free fundraiser is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Chautauqua Lodge in Long Beach, 304 14th St NW.
Gwen Brake acknowledges that the people being picked up did commit a crime by coming into the country illegally. But, the Ocean Beach afterschool program teacher said, arresting and deporting parents punishes children. Families, including those who’ve been part of the community for decades, and businesses that rely on the work of immigrants are also suffering.
“They’ve been our friends and our neighbors,” she said. “They’re the people who’ve held up our little corner of the world.”
ICE does not have arrest and deportation counts by county “readily available,” spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the Observer in August. She provided combined counts for her agency’s three-state Pacific Northwest region.
In Washington, Oregon and Alaska, ICE picked up almost twice as many immigrants with no criminal history from October to June than during the previous 12 months.
During the 2016 budget year, 1,395 foreign nationals were deported from the region with no prior convictions.
Of the 84 foreign nationals who were arrested during a federal immigration raid in the Northwest earlier this year, about a quarter had clean criminal records, according to the agency’s March 30 news release. It listed no arrests in Pacific County during the three-day operation. Officials said agents were targeting criminals, immigration fugitives and people who’ve come into the U.S. illegally more than once.
The agency released the “most serious” past conviction of each person arrested. About a third were convicted of driving under the influence, the release said. Offenses included assault, marijuana possession, sex crimes and traffic violations, among others.
The authorities were back in the region late last month. They nabbed almost three dozen immigrants around Seattle during a four-day sweep.
Sheriff Scott Johnson said ICE gave his requests the cold shoulder for months until the newspaper raised questions about why federal officials weren’t sharing information with local law enforcement.
The agency has recently started to provide at least some details about arrests, Johnson said. The sheriff said ICE last reported making an arrest in the county on Friday.
The Observer has requested public records under the Freedom of Information Act that could reveal more details about the federal agency’s local activities. The sheriff’s office is also expected to provide information.
Despite the recent step towards transparency, immigrants on the Peninsula aren’t counting on shadowy enforcement relenting anytime soon, Nielson, the Nahcotta volunteer, said.
She knows one man who’s saving money in case he needs to bail himself out.
“He expects to be picked up anytime in a raid,” she said. “Most of the people have been here a long time. Their families and employers depend on them, then — they’re gone.”
• ICE provided numbers: www.chinookobserver.com/co/local-news/20170830/local-police-shut-off-from-ice-info
• For profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma: www.ice.gov/detention-facility/tacoma-northwest-detention-center
• Amazing map of immigration cases by county and area: trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/addressrep/