Saturday, January 9, 2016

Helicopter targets: After immigration agents arrest 3 in Huron County, likely 'more to come' (Huron Daily Tribune)

Helicopter targets: After immigration agents arrest 3 in Huron County, likely 'more to come'
By Chris Aldridge Tribune Staff Writer

HURON COUNTY — Helicopters flying over Bad Axe three weeks ago taking photos are linked to federal special agents’ arrests of three locals Friday morning they say were involved in criminal activities involving illegal immigrants — and the arrests could possibly lead to further investigation “beyond the boundaries of our county,” according to Huron County Sheriff Kelly J. Hanson.

Special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested two adult females and one adult male at about 6:30 a.m. Friday, according to the sheriff’s office. They were taken to the Bay City federal courthouse to be arraigned on federal charges Friday afternoon, an ICE public affairs officer told the Tribune in an email.

Hanson says the investigation leading to the arrests started with his office and Bad Axe police. He told the Tribune he could not say what prompted the investigation, but there’s “more than likely more to come.”

“We turned our information over to ICE, and this may have possibilities to go beyond the boundaries of our county,” Hanson said.

Hanson said he wasn’t told whether Friday’s arrests are connected to the Sanilac couple, Yolanda and Ralph Stewart, who federal prosecutors charged with conspiring to supply Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac dairy farms with illegal U.S. workers. The charges came the week after helicopters hovered overhead in Bad Axe on Dec. 18, but were later dropped because prosecutors said they needed more time to put together a case.

ICE isn’t giving a “play-by-play of what they’re doing,” Hanson said, adding the agency isn’t obligated to and he doesn’t expect it. Asked if Friday’s arrests were a success in the investigation, the sheriff said he couldn’t comment other than to say it’s “more than accusations.”

Hanson said residents called his office asking about helicopters flying in the area Friday. One call came in from a Verona Township resident who lived east of M-19 and reported seeing the helicopter at about 7 a.m. and was concerned, he said.

The call came a half hour after the arrests, and Hanson says he told the resident it was part of an ICE investigation, there’s no reason to be alarmed and there’s no safety issue.

Helicopters and other federal aircraft are “no stranger to the shoreline,” Hanson said.

“You’re apt to see them go through the area, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

However, changes in federal immigration policies have brought confusion when it comes to local enforcement.

Hanson, in his eighth year as sheriff, said the Obama Administration has changed immigration policies three times.

“It does cause confusion,” he said.

Currently, unless an illegal immigrant has committed a crime, feds are not interested in picking them up, Hanson said.

Five years ago, in Huron County, Hanson says there were more than 200 illegal immigrants.

“We’re not running into the amount we once did,” he said. “(But) we know they’re still there.”

When local authorities did find illegal immigrants, Hanson says it usually involved a call for domestic violence or traffic stop.

“It wasn’t us going to farms looking for them,” he said.

As for risks to residents due to the helicopters, investigations, arrests or any other worries, Hanson says there are none that he is aware of.

The Tribune requested a copy of the criminal complaint from ICE filed at the Bay City federal court, but did not receive the document Friday. A message seeking whether ICE will continue to monitor Huron County by helicopter, or any other means, or neighboring counties in relation to the arrests or for any other reasons, was also left with ICE.

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