Federal agents detained at least 30 people during a raid Tuesday morning at a firearms manufacturing plant in Sanford.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “executed a search warrant” at Bear Creek Arsenal as part of ongoing investigation, ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell wrote in an email to The News & Observer.
Alerta Migratoria NC, a local Latino advocacy group, said ICE showed up at several other manufacturing companies in Sanford on Tuesday.
Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter said in a statement posted on social media that the raid “was isolated to one location.” ICE did not immediately respond Tuesday afternoon to questions about additional raids.
Chris Barnes, an immigration attorney in Chapel Hill, told The News & Observer that one of his clients, a native of El Salvador who has applied for asylum, was one of 30 people taken by federal agents during a 5 a.m. raid at Moore’s Machine Company on McNeill Road.
He spoke with his client throughout the day until she was placed on a bus with other detainees, he said. Hours later, she was released.
Barnes said an ICE agent told him immigration officials were searching for fraudulent I-9s, an eligibility form created by the Department of Homeland Security required for every employee hired in the United States.
Some undocumented residents try to get jobs by using a phony name and Social Security number, Barnes said. Sometimes companies don’t bother to verify an employee’s I-9 status to determine if they are authorized to work in this country, he added.
In his statement, Carter said it’s unclear whether the local business, Bear Creek Arsenal, “was at fault.”
“What I want Lee County residents to know is that this was not a random operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Lee County,” he wrote. “This was the result of an ongoing investigation by Immigration and Customs and isolated to one location.”
ICE agents entered Bear Creek Arsenal, also located on McNeill Road, about 8 a.m., reported Qué Pasa, a Spanish-language media organization in Raleigh. People were ordered inside a break room and were not allowed to leave unless they had identification, Qué Pasa reported.
Viridiana Martinez, a spokeswoman with Alerta Migratoria NC, said the group has heard from people inside Bear Creek Arsenal who said the ICE agents were looking for specific people.
At one point, Martinez said, 70 people were detained.
Martinez said Sanford has long been a destination for immigrants because they can often find jobs with local businesses.
It’s unfortunate when undocumented workers became targets of law enforcement and those businesses, she said.
“Then they throw them under the bus,” Martinez said. “It’s wrong.”
Barnes said he explained to an ICE official that his client had applied for asylum, but her case had not been heard. He also informed the agency that his client’s 4-year-old child has severe health problems, including a cleft palate, asthma and a chromosome deficiency, he said.
“She’s almost 5 and she doesn’t speak,” Barnes said. “He said he would take it into consideration; they still took her away.”
Barnes said his client might have been released because of the daughter’s medical condition, and because her plea for asylum has not gone before a judge.
“Her case has never been adjudicated,” he said. “That may have had something to do with it as well.”