At least nine arrests were reportedly made by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Moab on Friday, Aug. 24.
On Tuesday, Aug. 28, Rhiana Medina, the executive director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center (MVMC), said that the six-person staff at the MVMC had been busy prioritizing the needs of the detainees minute-by-minute in the days following the arrests.
“This is crisis management,” Medina said.
The center is a nonprofit that provides support and crisis resources, including bilingual counseling and referrals, to people who face language and cultural barriers. She said that, as far as she knew, every person detained contacted the MVMC for guidance.
“Now, looking at this three days out, it tells me that this is a place people call when they are in trouble because they can find concrete support in times of need and get factual information, she said.
Medina said ICE made “targeted arrests” — the ICE operation wasn’t exactly a “raid,” even though the term is being used by other news outlets, she said.
“They (ICE agents) were in plain clothes, undercover,” she said. “They were not armed.”
At the Moab City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28, city police chief Jim Winder delivered a report and said his department had received a courtesy call from immigration authorities before the arrests took place.
“ICE communicates with the jurisdiction they are going into, but don’t provide specifics into the nature of their operations,” Winder said.
Winder described the different types of ICE operations that are possible, noting that it can be a routine, administrative check on employees, or it can “ramp up into what is called raids,” he said, where there are numerous agents with the intent to arrest a lot of people at once.
“What happened was something in the middle,” Winder said. He said that it appears that ICE may have targeted aggravated re-entry suspects — people who had been deported and then re-entered the country.
ICE officials did not respond to media requests for more information about its operations in Moab.
One Latina woman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said she feels “terrified” for her family and friends, who remain undocumented.
“The moment that they called and told me it was happening, I called my dad and told him not to leave the house,” she said.
On Saturday morning, she was one of just two employees who showed up to work at a restaurant.
“People were marching in town for the ICE protest, and I had a table (of customers) ask me, ‘Why are they protesting them?’” she said.
About 40 people had gathered in downtown Moab on Saturday, Aug. 25, to protest against the ICE arrests that occurred the previous day. Chants included, “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, ICE has got to go.”
She said that her customers were supportive of ICE arresting the undocumented workers, and were disappointed by the shortage of staff.
“The people at the table just made a really bad face, shook their head and said, ‘Whatever,’” she said.
On social media in Moab, reaction to the ICE presence was intense and emotional, mirroring national sentiment on the subject of immigration. A Moab Sun News Facebook post that broke the news on Saturday morning was viewed more than 32,000 times.
A 35-year-old man, speaking anonymously at the restaurant where he works on Main Street, admitted that his status is “illegal.”
“I’ve already been deported twice,” he said.
No arrests were made on Friday at the restaurant where he works, but some of his coworkers left town out of fear. He said he wasn’t afraid to return to work. With four children, he’s the head of his household and said he has an attorney who has been working on his immigration case for several years.
“I will either get my papers or I will get sent back to Mexico,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a reason to be afraid … if they (ICE) come for you, they come for you.”
Javier Ordonez, a manager at El Charro Loco on South Main Street, said the ICE agents came to the restaurant at around 9 a.m. on Friday.
“Three people were arrested outside before we opened — for no reason,” Ordonez said. “They had never been in trouble, they are good people.”
A half-mile away, Dulce Munoz, a cashier at Giliberto’s Mexican Taco Shop, said there continue to be a lot of rumors circulating about what happened and clarified that no arrests were made at Giliberto’s.
“We don’t know how the rumor started that they came here and took people,” Munoz said. “That didn’t happen. We’re good. Nothing unusual, it was just a usual day for us.”
But just a few doors down from Giliberto’s, two employees at Fiesta Mexicana were arrested, said Tomas Robles, the restaurant’s business coordinator.
“I didn’t see exactly what happened,” he said. Robles was busy working inside the restaurant when the arrests were made outside.
“It’s pretty sad this happened,” Robles said. “I hope this will stop, because we just come to work, you know.”
Along central Main Street, one employee was arrested at Eddie McStiff’s. Bill Snyder, a manager at the restaurant, said that he was working when ICE came.
“I have no comment on the ICE — I’ll use the term ‘raid’ — on Moab, but I will say that the agents were respectful and were nice in doing their job,” Snyder said.
The arrests led to several businesses closing on Friday. Managers reported a range of closures, from some that lasted just a few hours on Friday to full closures throughout the entire weekend.
On Saturday, the Latina woman who agreed to speak anonymously said that at the restaurant where she works, the customers became “mad” when she and other staff members had to inform them that there was a staff shortage.
“All of the Latino community, everyone didn’t want to show up to work on Saturday,” she said. “Everywhere was so short on staff. I had to be one of the ones working. It was so bad to just have two people in the kitchen.”
As word of the arrests began to spread quickly through town, employees and business owners began to call one another in the area.
“There’s a whole network in town,” said Gary Howe, a desk clerk at the Inca Inn. “Everybody was checking on everybody else to make sure we were all OK. I liken it to squirrels. When a wolf comes into their valley, the squirrels all stand up on their hind legs and start chirping at each other. It’s about the same way here … everyone rallied together and made sure everyone they knew of in town could get out and get safe.”
ICE did not visit the Inca Inn, Howe said, but the hotel felt a “secondary effect because an employee’s family member is undocumented, and when he came in, he got all of his work done in just a few hours so they could get out of here (to be with his family).”
One employee was arrested at a hotel on the southside of town. The managers there asked not to be named.
At the other end of town, Chris Moss, the assistant general manager at the Aarchway Inn, dispelled a rumor that employees there were arrested.
“I don’t think ICE came here,” he said.
ICE agents visited several neighborhoods, and had a list of names for specific people that they were looking for to arrest, Medina said.
ICE has not released the list, but based on reports, the agents were in the area of West Walnut Lane, but many of the residents said that they were not at home on Friday, or did not know about the ICE operation.
At Grand Oasis, a man who works as a business manager said that he had heard about the ICE agents coming into the neighborhood to make arrests, but said that he didn’t see anything.
A woman said that she had heard rumors, but also didn’t see anything, even though she was at home on Friday.
“I think it’s a Trump thing,” she said. “He promised to make all of this enforcement happen, and now it is.”
Several people, including Moab City Council member Mike Duncan, asked if the people targeted by ICE had criminal histories.
Medina said the people targeted in the arrests did not appear to have criminal charges. An employee at one restaurant said that one of the men arrested by ICE had a prior conviction “from a long, long time ago,” but said that it was a minor charge.
One Moab resident told the Moab Sun News that a family member was detained and taken to a holding center in Hurricane, Utah, and then moved to a detention facility in Las Vegas.
Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus did not respond to the Moab Sun News’ questions for comment about the ICE actions that took place in the city.
Grand County Sheriff’s Office Jail Commander Lieutenant Shan Hackwell said that illegal or undocumented suspects who are jailed for criminal offenses in the area are reported to ICE, but they aren’t charged locally with a new offense for having an undocumented status.
“Immigration would then talk to them and determine if they want to put a hold on them,” Hackwell said. “If they put a hold on them, they go through their other charges here, and immigration will determine if they still want to pick them up.”
Grand County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Kim Neal said, “Sometimes they pick them up, sometimes they don’t.”
“Do I keep a standard list of all of the undocumented people in my jail? No, I do not,” Hackwell said.
If ICE does not issue a “detainer,” those with illegal or undocumented status are released back into the community after completing their convictions, or sometimes they post bail.
ICE issued more than 2,000 detainers in Utah in 2017, but the number of new deportation proceedings originating in Utah and filed in immigration court fell sharply to the lowest number since 2005, with less than 900 new cases, compared to about 1,500 in 2016.
One reason for this difference could be because immigration officials are expediting deportation, Medina said.
Nearly 600 Utah immigration cases were backlogged in immigration court in 2017, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The pending cases have an average wait of about 500 days.
“Because there is such a backlog, what immigration attorneys have explained to us, is that they try to expedite that process sometimes by allowing people to voluntarily deport themselves,” Medina said.
Instead of filing a new deportation case, the people are asked to “sign paperwork” for voluntary deportation.
“With the long wait, often times people try to have a defense of some kind,” Medina said. “It’s all shades of complicated.”
9 reportedly detained; Local businesses short-staffed as fear spread