Last week, Maggie Mejia received a phone call from an undocumented immigrant acquaintance who claimed to have heard from someone else that government agents were rounding up undocumented immigrants in Stanislaus County for deportation.
Mejia, a longtime area resident and Latino advocate, went on Facebook and asked if anyone knew of or had seen a place on Hatch Road where immigration agents supposedly had run a checkpoint. In other words, confirm or refute. One replied that the checkpoint operated from 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday. Another replied that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had arrested two Latinos in Waterford.
Otherwise, some of the 50-plus people repeated what they’d heard from others who heard it from someone else.
“I didn’t want to start a panic,” Mejia said. “That’s why I posed it as a question – to find out if it was true.”
But such a fear among immigrants or those with close connections to undocumented immigrants is understandable. President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall separating the United States and Mexico. A recent story about a woman seeking refuge in a church to avoid deportation was followed by another, from the Associated Press, reporting that the government would order 100,000 National Guard troops to round up undocumented immigrants for deportation – which the White House denies.
But the rumor of a raid here simply was not true, according to James Schwab, an ICE spokesman in San Francisco. Neither was the supposed raid at Costco in Richmond nor anything else reported in Northern California recently. That doesn’t mean some undocumented immigrants weren’t arrested, Schwab said. It means there was no random roundup, as the rumors suggested.
“No raids, no checkpoints,” he said. Then he forwarded a statement that said, in effect, the agency targets undocumented immigrants on a case-by-case basis, with their criminal histories and the threat they might pose to a community making them priorities.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson echoed Schwab, saying he knew of no such operations but had heard some of those same rumors that have some people all worked up. Same with Modesto police Chief Galen Carroll, who said the feds routinely communicate with local officials when they come into a jurisdiction. He said someone circulated a photo of a U.S. Border Patrol car and claimed it was in south Modesto, the validity of which he doubted.
“I’ve never seen one of those up here,” Carroll said. “I forgot they even have them.”
Likewise, District Attorney Birgit Fladager said her office works with ICE on specific cases, but knew of no raids in the area as rumored.
A decade ago, ICE assigned only one agent from its Stockton office to work cases in the area. ICE worked with parole and probation officers at times, but dealing with criminal cases became problematic because the federal government relied on state and local agents to do the policing with the promise of paying jail costs. But the feds rarely reimbursed them.
Meanwhile, the local agencies could only prosecute crimes against the state, meaning California, but not merely for being here illegally. That is a federal issue, not a state issue.
While Border Patrol staffing rose during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations – Obama forcibly deported some 2.5 million people and turned back countless more at the border – staffing for immigration agents in this area didn’t boom. Schwab refuses to say how many are assigned to work in this county out of the Stockton office, saying only that it’s more than one and that the agency pools resources where needed.
Because Trump claimed during his campaign for the presidency that he would aggressively deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall to keep them out, it’s easy to see why the mere rumor of a raid would cause fear and consternation among Valley Latinos. According to a 2011 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, undocumented immigrants made up nearly 8 percent of Stanislaus County’s overall population, though those numbers are thought to be lower today.
Under Obama, 90 percent of those deported had criminal records. During the first major sweep since Trump took office, 74 percent of the 678 arrested in last week’s 12-state operation had criminal backgrounds.
California wasn’t among those states. That doesn’t mean a more comprehensive sweep couldn’t happen at some point, ICE’s Schwab said. Trump has been in office for only one month.
“It’s very early in the game,” Schwab said.
But it didn’t happen last week.
“Rumors of indiscriminate ‘raids,’ checkpoints and sweeps in Modesto and throughout Northern California are false, dangerous and irresponsible,” Schwab said.