Remember how President Trump said he was going to go after the “bad hombres?” This week, agents arrested a 49-year-old mother of four from the Tukwila McDonald’s parking lot — even though she was carrying a valid work permit.
As she does almost every morning, Lorita, not her real name, pulled into the Tukwila McDonald’s recently to grab a coffee on her way to work.
After she went through the drive-through, she paused in a parking spot to add some cream and sugar. Suddenly there was a knock at her driver’s-side window, by a man wearing a black vest.
A Mexican immigrant, she saw her car was surrounded by three, perhaps four men. One shouted for her to get out.
“I thought I might be kidnapped, or … how do you say when they take your car?” she asked me the other day.
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“Yes, I didn’t know if they were going to kill me or steal my car or what,” she said. “I was so scared, my heart was going like crazy.”
Lorita was being arrested by immigration agents. The 49-year-old rolled down the window a few inches — enough, she says, for the man to reach in and unlock the door. He opened it and said she was in “big trouble,” for “being in the country illegally.”
Eventually, she says, he pulled her out, made her spread-eagle up against the car, asked if she had guns or drugs, then handcuffed her and forced her into a waiting car to be taken to immigration offices in Seattle.
To cut to the end: Lorita is Mexican, but she also has a valid work permit, called an Employment Authorization Document. It’s similar to a green card, and she was carrying it with her. Her kids, one of whom I spoke to, are U.S. citizens. She has no criminal record — not even a speeding ticket when we did a background check on her. And she’s worked at Seattle’s Globespun Gourmet, a commercial kitchen in Sodo, for going on 15 years.
It was her boss who told me about her bizarre arrest. His question: What in the hell is going on in America?
“We’ve got junkies camping and shooting up in our parking lot 24 hours a day, and I can’t get the cops to do a thing about that,” said Adam Hewey, Globespun’s general manager. “But here’s my honest, hard-working employee, who was carrying her permit and has done nothing wrong — she gets plucked out of the drive-through at a McDonald’s and handcuffed? For what, looking Mexican?”
Lorita’s daughter told me Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents said there was a records glitch and they wrongly picked up her mom. But they wouldn’t say how they came to grab her at the Tukwila McDonald’s. It’s a known gathering spot for Tukwila’s booming immigrant population. But it’s also more than 15 miles from Lorita’s Auburn home.
I asked ICE about that. Specifically: “What about this idea that ICE agents are trolling the Tukwila McDonald’s parking lot?”
The spokeswoman responded that every immigration arrest is made on a “case-by-case basis.” She emailed an agency fact sheet that includes this blanket denial: “Reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible. These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger.”
Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said his group has been getting more reports of immigration stings happening at seemingly random, public spots.
“This unfortunately seems to be part of the unshackling of immigration enforcement that’s going on right now in the country,” Adams said.
Even if Lorita’s arrest was an error, it’s a far cry from the notion put out there by President Donald Trump that they’re only cracking down on “bad hombres,” or “the gang members — bad, bad people,” as he put it last winter. This is a 5-foot-6, 49-year-old mother of four.
Through the end of April, immigration arrests were up 37 percent compared to last year, with about three-fourths having some criminal past. But arrests of immigrants with no criminal record are up 157 percent.
“Under the Presidential Executive Order, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the ICE spokeswoman wrote.
Lorita, the person, not the class or category, was let go and got to work five hours late. She was still shaking, her boss says. The reason I’m not using her real name is because she’s now afraid. Even with a valid work permit, she’s been pushed into the shadows.
When ICE had her, she called her daughter, who is 19, to tell her to get ready to take over running the family. She was certain she was going to be deported.
“I was just getting coffee,” Lorita told me.
She hasn’t been back to the Tukwila McDonald’s.