Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Culpeper raid nets five undocumented suspects (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

Culpeper raid nets five undocumented suspects
Raid in Culpeper nets five of 19 undocumented suspects, but officials still satisfied

Date published: 9/24/2008


Four early morning raids by federal, state and local authorities resulted in the arrests yesterday of five undocumented Hispanics in or near the town of Culpeper.

Those raids, planned and carried out at the request of the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), targeted 19 subjects who were suspected of being gang members, criminals or former deportees who had re-entered the country.

While the raids netted only about a fourth of those targeted, Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close said he wasn't disappointed.

"Given the nature of who we were going after, it was pretty good," Close said. "Gang members travel around frequently. This was a pretty good haul."

More than 30 agents--including town police officers, sheriff's deputies, state troopers and 12 members of ICE's Gang Prevention Unit--participated in the simultaneous raids on four different locations at about 3:30 a.m.

Planning began about six months ago, according to Culpeper town Police Chief Scott Barlow, who said local officials fax ICE a list of any undocumented immigrants who are arrested or come through the court system.

"When the list becomes worthwhile to cast the net, we cast the net," Barlow said, adding that the next raid might be in two weeks or six months.

Town public information officer Wally Bunker said ICE officials did not specify the charges against the five suspects, and did not release the names or ages of those taken into custody. There were no local charges filed.

At least one of the five was a woman, Bunker said, but local officials were uncertain as to the sex of the others.

Those taken into custody were temporarily jailed in Culpeper, then moved to federal facilities yesterday afternoon, according to Sheriff Jim Branch. He called the raids "a proactive effort" to rid the community of dangerous elements.

"Gang members here illegally; that's what this was all about," said Close.

None of those arrested, however, had been directly tied to any gang as of yesterday afternoon, Barlow said. He added that he believed one suspect was tied to a New York state gun charge.

"This will send a positive message," said Close. "I hope [those sought] all look for accommodations in Stafford County."

While those who participated in the raids were pleased with the outcome, all spoke of the futility of the situation.

"We just chase the problem from our community to someone else's community but the problem is still there," said Branch.

And no one at yesterday's press conference could guarantee that all of those arrested would not be back in the United States six months after they are deported.

Close blamed the entry and re-entry problem on a federal system that is not working.

"If the federal government had done its job, we would not even be here," he said, pointing to a stack of papers that contained the names of 1,842 suspected illegal aliens that his office had forwarded to ICE in the past two years.

No one, however, blamed ICE. All agreed that the agency is overwhelmed.

The officials said the safety of the community was their main concern. Barlow said a recent town police survey found that gangs were the No. 1 problem on the minds of those who responded.

And Branch said, "We want to show the community that we're taking very seriously the safety of the community."

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