At least half of the men that immigration agents arrested this week in Orange and Chatham counties were not the intended targets, including three brothers who worked at a family-owned Franklin Street restaurant.
Luis David Ordoñez and Cruz Enrique Ordoñez Guerra, who work at Roots Bakery, Bistro & Bar, were cleaning up a mobile home Wednesday on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when men showed up wearing vests and shirts labeled "police.” They had badges, but the word “ICE” was in small letters, neighbors said.
Luis Ordoñez called their brother, Roots co-owner Gabriel Ordoñez Ramos, to interpret, because the agents were asking about a man who had failed to appear in court on a drunken-driving charge. Gabriel and his brothers were arrested instead.
Now they're in a federal detention center in Atlanta with at least 22 other people seized across the Triangle this week. There, they will await possible bond and deportation hearings.
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"The majority of those targeted for arrest have criminal convictions beyond anything to do with their immigration status," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox said Friday.
Durham-based El Centro Hispano identified the Orange and Chatham detainees Thursday: Besides the brothers, they included Marco Antonio Cano Velázquez, Hugo Waldemar Cano Velázquez, Manuel Isaias Ascencio Ortega, Edwin Enamorado, Otelio Mondragon, Josue Diaz Perez and Rufino Ruiz Dias.
The nonprofit agency has started a GoFundMe page to raise $30,000 for the families' legal fees.
Roots co-owner Turtle Harrison said he and his brother-in-law Rolando Ordoñez Ramos haven't slept in a couple of days. He drove to Raleigh to see his brothers-in-law before they were moved, but he was turned away. Now Gabriel's wife and their 5-year-old daughter are staying with his family, because she doesn't want to be alone, Harrison said.
The arrest has deeply affected the family, he said, and their Guatemalan-style restaurant is now short-staffed. They haven't even thought about how it could affect their second location opening in Durham's Hope Valley shopping center. Gabriel came to the United States as a child, he said; the others are more recent immigrants who were bullied and beaten in their native country.
They are good people without criminal records, who have gone to college and worked in many restaurants, Harrison said. Ordoñez and Ordoñez Guerra also worked, respectively, at Spanky's and Four Corners on Franklin Street.
The family doesn't know how they're doing or what will happen next, he said.
"Everybody's just absolutely distraught," Harrison said. "I'd sell everything and all the assets to the restaurants just to make sure they're OK. They're way more important than a business. ... My wife, everybody else, they would say the same thing."
ICE agents didn't let local law enforcement know they were coming, officials said.
ICE "is not real happy" with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which doesn't honor their requests to hold people living in the U.S. without legal permission, Sheriff Charles Blackwood said. Chapel Hill and Carrboro officers also do not make immigration status a priority.
As a result, ICE is only alerted to immigrants in Orange County illegally when they are arrested on other charges and fingerprinted.
In 2017, 92 percent of the 143,470 people that ICE arrested across the nation either had a criminal conviction, a pending criminal charge or were subject to a federal immigration judge's removal order, he said. Roughly 74 percent had been convicted of a crime.
That was down from 2016, when 86 percent of the 110,104 people arrested had criminal convictions, he said, and from 2015, when 85 percent of the 119,772 people arrested had criminal convictions.
The numbers show that more people were arrested at the height of President Barack Obama's administration in 2013 — 232,287 — and 2014 — 183,703 arrests. About 73 percent of those detainees had criminal convictions,
The Atlanta field office region, which includes Georgia and North and South Carolina, had 13,551 arrests in 2017, up from 8,886 in 2016 and 9,088 in 2015, he reported. Roughly 90 percent of the 2015 detainees had criminal convictions, compared with 88 percent who had criminal convictions in 2016 and 67 percent in 2017.
In 2013, ICE arrested 17,600 people in the region, and in 2014, 14,274 were arrested. Between 73 percent and 75 percent had a criminal conviction.
The National Immigration Law Center takes issue with ICE's contention that its raids are targeting specific people, particularly during President Donald Trump's administration.
Since January 2017, when Trump issued an interior enforcement executive order, anyone who is undocumented has been a priority for deportation, center officials note, and ICE also now prosecutes anyone who entered the country illegally at any time. Previously, that only affected people caught in the act of entering the country illegally or near the border.
There's also the growing issue of "collateral" arrests and deportations, officials said, which includes people without legal status who are in the wrong place at the wrong time and also young people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status.
Collateral arrests create a very real fear in the immigrant community, said Raleigh Immigration Law Firm attorney Beckie Moriello.
"Obama was deporting a lot of people, but he was generally through, at least in North and South Carolina ... the jails and the courts, so people who had some sort of criminal charge," Moriello said. "Now, sometimes you have to put 'criminal' in quotes, because it's a minor traffic ticket, which most people don't consider to be a crime."
"These last few arrests, where it's just ICE going after people, this is kind of like the boogeyman. This is stuff that you hear about, but it doesn't really happen," she said.
The latest arrests also include people who don't have existing removal orders or other issues, Moriello said.
"This is very new and very disturbing, and it's rightfully going to cause panic," she said.
Knock at the door
A knock at the door startled Olimpia Godoy, her daughter Nathaly Grijalva and their neighbor Thursday night.
They hesitated to answer, looking at each other with wide eyes before Grijalva got up. She looked twice out the window at three young people standing on the porch, clipboards and papers in hand, and looked back at her mother, still uncertain.
The tension eased when they learned it was a group from Siembra NC, a Greensboro-based immigrant organization that was visiting the affected communities with advice about how to identify ICE agents and defend their rights.
Neighbors and their children are afraid to be outside for very long now, Godoy said, as Grijalva interpreted. Because the ICE agents looked like police, they also are worried that neighbors will be less likely to report crimes to the local law enforcement, she said.
“We’re not against police catching real criminals, but not people who are here to work,” Godoy said.
That's what Siler City brothers and air-conditioning repairmen Marco Antonio Cano Velázquez and Hugo Waldemar Cano Velàzquez were getting ready to do Wednesday when ICE arrested them.
Their only crime was moving to this country, their wives said.
Marco’s wife, Blandi Morales, had left their Siler City home just 20 minutes earlier to take her 10-year-old son to school and run an errand. The couple have been married for five years and also have a 2-year-old son together.
Now, she’s trying to figure out how to keep her family afloat, while working with a lawyer to help her husband. Her sons are sad and very confused about what’s happening, she said.
Her sister-in-law Viviana, who was afraid to give her full name, is in a similar position. She and Hugo have three children – 2- and 8-year-old boys and a 12-year-old girl. She found out about the arrests when Hugo’s boss called; he has never missed work, she said.
Viviana talked to Hugo by phone for a few minutes Wednesday. His record is clear and he is trying to stay calm, she said, but he told her to work hard and see if they can get him out. If they can’t, he told her to care for their children, she said.
Siembra NC is planning an event for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at which Spanish-speaking people can learn to identify ICE agents, check out rumors and interrupt ICE raids, and help protect their neighbors. The location is still being determined, organizer Andrew Willis Garces said. Interested people can email him at Awillisgarces@afsc.org or get updates on Facebook at facebook.com/siembraNC.