Thirty people arrested in a raid in Ellensburg early Thursday morning by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations following a year-and-a-half-long probe into an operation that involved the manufacture and sale of counterfeit ID and work documents.
Kixcia Barrientos awoke early Thursday morning to a flashlight shining through the mobile home she shares with her parents and 15-year-old brother. There was someone shouting at her parents to get on the floor.
Her next image was of her mother and her father, a local pastor, walking down the hallway toward the living room — their hands cuffed.
“They asked if they should handcuff me and my brother, and someone else said ‘there was no need,’ ” said the 11-year-old, who was born in this country.
Kixcia, a sixth-grader at Morgan Middle School in Ellensburg, said the agents searched the home for documents, photographed some of what they found and carted away other things. “Then they took my mom and dad away.”
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She and her brother are staying with relatives.
Her parents were among 30 people arrested in a raid in Ellensburg early Thursday morning by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Homeland Security Investigations following a year-and-a-half-long probe into an operation that involved the manufacture and sale of counterfeit ID and work documents.
“Those who create and sell fraudulent documents compromise our nation’s legal identification system,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Washington state. Fourteen people — 13 of them women and all of them Latino — were arrested on criminal warrants following grand-jury indictments. They made their initial appearances in federal court in Yakima on Friday.
The other 16 people had been identified during the course of the investigation and were arrested Thursday on immigration-violation charges, ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said.
Thirteen of them were transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, and the three others were released on humanitarian grounds.
The early-morning raid and arrests rattled the central Washington town of 17,000 people, home to Central Washington University.
Census figures show about 7 percent of Ellensburg residents are Latino.
Residents described helicopters circling mobile-home parks, and the community buzzed with fantastic tales about agents busting through doors of a middle school to haul students from their classrooms.
Michelle Bibich, principal at Morgan Middle School, said there were no agents in her building. “No students were removed by anyone other than their parents,” she said.
Kixcia’s father is the pastor of Iglesia Pentecostal, a local church for the Latino community where Friday several church members gathered to talk about the raid.
At a local Catholic church, two community meetings were scheduled for Friday evening to address residents’ concerns.
Lowell Murphree, a local pastor and immigrant advocate, said the community needs to deal with the fallout from this raid and figure out how to address the needs of the children of those arrested, and how to ensure that feelings some have about immigrants don’t divide people.
Those who make bail and return to the community likely will not get their jobs back and will need help, he pointed out.
And, he added: “How do we deal with the trauma experienced by the children — people with big guns drawn in the middle of the night and their parents in handcuffs?”
The Homeland Security agents, along with other federal and local law-enforcement agencies, had served 11 criminal warrants at 22 homes.
Thirteen of the 14 who appeared in federal court Friday morning were charged with visa fraud and government-identification fraud. Three of those have the additional charge of falsely claiming to be U.S. citizens.
The 14th person was charged with re-entry into the United States after having been deported.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org