By KEVIN WALKER
NEW ERA, Mich. — Ten migrant workers have been arrested and jailed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in a raid on a migrant labor camp in western Michigan.
The arrests took place in New Era, a small town in Oceana County; the county abuts Lake Michigan and is roughly halfway between the Indiana border and the Upper Peninsula.
According to multiple reports and information from migrant worker advocates, ICE officers had a warrant they were trying to serve on an individual at the Baker Agricultural Labor Camp on 90th Avenue in New Era. The camp is owned by Lakeside Pic N Pac 2 in Holland.
According to a Sept. 22 article posted by Grand Rapids television station WZZM 13, the individual in question was not there; however, a number of other workers were outside their domiciles when law enforcement showed up, and were arrested, said Hillary Scholten, an attorney with the nonprofit Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
After the arrests, the individuals were taken to a location in Youngstown, Ohio, where they were as of press time. All the detainees were male except one, and she was taken to another location, in Calhoun County.
“We’re still trying to understand what the motive was there,” Scholten said in an interview last week. “They showed up with a warrant for one person and we know that the person they wanted wasn’t there; but they ended up rounding up 10 people.”
Scholten wondered if the arrested workers weren’t the ones being targeted to begin with. A large police presence is intimidating, she noted, but wouldn’t say if the officers in question had drawn their guns at any point during the incident. Sometimes people don’t realize they can just go inside their homes if their name isn’t on a warrant, and they don’t have to answer the door to police, she explained; however, she noted if law enforcement is banging on the door, ignoring that can be difficult to do.
An email message was sent to Khalid Walls, regional communications director for ICE in the region that includes Michigan. A telephone message was left with him as well; however, he did not respond to the messages and no press release was made available on ICE Web pages regarding the raid.
Although ICE says it communicates with the public about what it’s doing, the Michigan Farm Bureau’s Manager of Agricultural Labor and Safety Services Craig Anderson said quite often, ICE and other law enforcement personnel do not in reality provide information to the public about either their investigations or operations before, during and after the fact.
“We’re very concerned about the way the raid happened,” Scholten said. “There was a lot that happened that we’re concerned about, especially in relation to the H-2A guest worker program. The ripple is being felt strongly throughout the immigrant and immigrant rights community.
“The farm workers had just finished picking blueberries for the season. What kind of message does that send? Who knows, maybe that’s why they did what they did.”
There seemed to be scant word about the raid in New Era, as well. Roy Strait, chief of police for the small town, said he knew nothing about it except what he read in the newspaper after the fact. “I didn’t hear anything about it,” he added.