Thursday, May 22, 2008

Feds arrest 16 in raid Wayne County migrant camp (Syracuse Post-Standard)

Feds arrest 16 in raid Wayne County migrant camp
Farm Bureau official says workers verbally abused. Agent denies allegation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008
By John Stith
Staff writer

Federal immigration agents raided a migrant camp in Savannah in Wayne County on Wednesday morning, taking into custody 16 of the 17 workers living there.

The 16 taken into custody - 11 men and five women - were transported to the immigration detention center in Batavia. Their cases will be evaluated individually, according to Lev Kubiak, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of Investigations. Two were from Guatemala and 14 from Mexico.

Immigration agents, assisted by state police, arrived shortly after 6 a.m. at the camp, a large wood-framed building on Route 31 just north of the Seneca County line and owned by Martens Farms. Over about 90 minutes, immigration authorities led the handcuffed workers out of the building and into a small bus for the trip to Batavia.

Kubiak said one worker, who has an immigration case pending, was allowed to remain at the camp.

The workers were employed by Martens Farms and worked at a processing plant in Port Byron. Farm owner Robert Martens could not be reached for comment.

Kubiak said the raid was part of a continuing investigation. Immigration authorities had received a tip that illegal workers were living at the camp, he said.

"We're at a very initial stage of this investigation, so I can't comment specifically about this investigation," he said.

Mark James, executive director of the Farm Bureau in the Finger Lakes Region, who toured the building after the agents had left, said the federal agents verbally abused the migrant workers during the sweep and had "trashed" the interior.

"The place was ransacked," he said.

Kubiak denied allegations that the workers or their belongings were handled roughly. Agents did a thorough search, he said.

Caroline Kim, of Syracuse, a law school graduate and advocate for immigrants, said raids like the one in Savannah terrorize the Hispanic community at large, including native born and naturalized citizens.

"Their constitutional rights are not being respected," Kim said. "Certainly, it drives them underground. They're fearful to go to the doctor. They're fearful to contact law enforcement if they're victims of a crime. They're afraid to get groceries. They're afraid to go to work. They're afraid to go to church."

Both James and Wayne County Farm Bureau President Phil Wagner, a fruit farmer from Butler, used the raid as a chance to call for reform of immigration laws and for immigration authorities to issue more visas to allow foreign workers into the country legally.

"We're being punished by taking our work force away without Washington addressing the problem," Wagner said. "For one season, if I can't harvest my fruit, I'm out of business."

James said immigration authorities have staked out areas of Wayne County to find illegal workers.

"I have been told they have been routinely hanging out at a supermarket across from a Catholic church on Sundays trying to nab people coming out of church," he said.

Kubiak said immigration authorities target individuals and employers who knowingly transport, harbor and employ illegal aliens. He noted that the Homeland Security Department's E-Verify program allows employers to verify names and Social Security numbers supplied by employees.

An employer who knowingly employs illegal aliens will face significant criminal penalties, Kubiak said.

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