Thursday, September 4, 2008

Feds raid Sun Valley, 18 workers arrested (Eureka Reporter)

By JOHN C. OSBORN , The Eureka Reporter

Published: Sep 3 2008, 11:02 PM · Updated: Sep 4 2008, 12:52 PM

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata Wednesday morning arresting 18 workers who they allege were not legally allowed to work in the country.

Approximately 40 federal agents arrived at Sun Valley Floral Farms in an estimated 12-vehicle motorcade around 10 a.m. Wednesday to execute a federal search warrant at the business.

Wednesday’s raid came as a result of an ongoing investigation that started with a tip to ICE, said ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice.

Over the past 10 months, Sun Valley Floral Farms has been working with ICE to comply with federal immigration laws, including providing its employees’ work eligibility forms when asked.

On June 6, the company let go of 283 employees hired after Social Security numbers found on the work verification forms came up with no match.

When ICE notified the company on Aug. 25 that 40 employees recently hired couldn’t work in the U.S. — the company let them go on Tuesday, said Sun Valley Group Owner Lane DeVries in a statement Wednesday.

Federal agents raided the company on Wednesday in a search of 52 workers ICE sought to detain, he said. Although DeVries said the company had the “utmost concern and compassion” for their employees, they had to respect the law.

“We are cooperating fully with ICE,” he said. “In light of this cooperation, we are extremely disappointed that ICE has chosen to escalate their approach to working with us on their concerns, as they have today.”

Agents surrounded the facility in Arcata, stopping vehicles that tried to leave to check if those inside matched a list of names and photographs.

During the raid, agents brought out handcuffed workers and led them toward one of several white vans with the windows covered. The vans ferried detainees between the farm and U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay in McKinleyville, where they were being held for questioning and processed by agents.

Those that had medical issues or child care responsibilities, would be released on their own recognizance, but expected to go to an immigration hearing.

Three of the arrestees were freed for such reasons, while another was turned over to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office as he had a warrant out of Southern California, Kice said.

As of press time, 14 workers remained in custody and were being processed by agents. If any of them are found to have a criminal record or a previous deportation, Kice said they would be transported to one of ICE’s detention facilities.

“We utilize a network of facilities here in Northern California,” she said.

At least one arrested worker from Palau, a Pacific island nation, was caught up in the sweep but turned out to be eligible to work in the U.S., which Kice said was an unusual situation.

While agents searched the Sun Valley property, concerned community members gathered outside of the farm.

At one point during the raid, a line of three people joined hands and stood in the road as they tried to block a van with detainees from leaving. After being blocked for several minutes, the van turned around and exited the property elsewhere. At least two Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived shortly after.

Sun Valley Floral Farm employee Dabreion Hill stood outside the facility in shock from the raid.

Hill said agents arrested most of the people he “spent time in the trenches” with, including his boss, who had worked at the farm for seven years.

“My crew, they wiped us out,” he said. “I consider them all friends, not criminals.”
Aside from friends being arrested, Hill said he had to leave work early, working only a half day.

“It’s bad for us because we got bills to pay,” he said.

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