Immigration agents outside an Auburn home this week.
Immigration agents outside an Auburn home this week.

Amid a nationwide crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the arrest of a longtime Auburn resident by immigration agents as he prepared to take his kids to school has led to fears and panic in the area, according to the Seattle-based immigrant rights group El Comite.

Reached by phone this morning, El Comite director Juan Jose Bocanega was driving down to Tacoma to visit the man—Tony Ruiz—at the Northwest Detention Center, a privately-run immigrant jail that's been the site of hunger strikes and protests in recent years. Bocanegra said there were reports of three additional arrests in the region—and a report of immigration agents showing up at a local market—but nothing further confirmed.

"There’s just been so many rumors that people are freaked out about what’s going on," Bocanegra said. "They don’t know where it’s coming from, when it’s going to happen, and to whom... It’s just been one reported bad scene after another around the country."

Ruiz has lived in the United States for nineteen years. He works as a handyman. Bocanegra said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents nabbed him as he warmed up his car to take his children to middle school. A cell phone video shows members of a household yelling at ICE agents in beanies and black clothes to go away. Members of his family couldn't immediately be reached for comment. "Don't say anything my love, don't say anything," says the woman filming.

Activists are planning a rally at Auburn's City Hall to denounce the raids. Nearly thirteen percent of Auburn's population—close to 10,000 people—are Latino or Hispanic, according to the 2010 census.

"This action has left many community members on edge and is part of a larger project by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to mass-deport Central American refugees who fled their countries of origin out of fear for their own safety," El Comite said in a statement.

The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any other. In late December, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would launch a series of raids targeting Central American migrants. As a result, the New York Times reports today, "immigrants who are undocumented and even those who have legal status have been paralyzed by fear." NPR reports that those being targeted are "mainly young mothers with children whose asylum claims have been rejected."

Activists and immigration lawyers say whether those asylum claims ever get a fair hearing depends on whether families are able to obtain legal representation, to which they do not have a guaranteed right, in immigration court proceedings.

Local ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said the agency is "simply pursuing our routine, targeted cases" in the Seattle area. Yesterday, she said ICE had not carried out any raids in Washington state as part of the initiative targeting Central American migrants.

Referencing President Obama's tearful outburst at a recent announcement of executive action on gun control, local filmmaker Jill Freidberg—who's traveled extensively in Central America—said she'd like to see the president issue an order stopping the deportations.

"Otherwise, I'm calling crocodile tears," Friedberg said. "You can't weep for one person's first grader while subjecting another's to abject terror."

The full El Comite statement is below.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Police arrested a long standing member and supporter of El Comite. This action has left many community members on edge and is part of a larger project by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to mass deport Central American refugees who fled their countries of origin out of fear for their own safety. These efforts by the Immigration police are nothing new and continue the same pattern of a heavy-handed enforcement approach to immigration reform ushered upon immigrants by the Administration of our “Deporter in Chief,” Barack Obama. After 3 million deportations, there is no question that the Obama Administration will have the dubious distinction of assuring an anti-immigrant record that even the most ardent of right-wing Republicans would envy.

At the national level, ICE has been terrorizing communities and dragging family members away, leaving children traumatized and households broken. Sadly, this is the projection of dehumanizing rhetoric on immigration as the current administration wants to show it can take more of a hardline stance and preempt the Republican Party, including Trump, to place the Democratic Party at the fore in stewardship of immigration. Other Democratic candidates, such as Bernie Sanders have condemned the actions. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has played and swayed with words, unwilling to criticize the Obama Administration and have the ammo to tell white voters in Ohio how tough she is with children, women and defenseless workers. We already know where the other Republican candidates stand and it is safe to assume, there will be no sympathy from that wall of hate.

According to the Obama decree the deportations are focused on persons who already have a deportation order and focuses on women and children from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras, who fled violence at the hands of drug cartel gangs and government forces. The U.S. government has looked the other way, and has ignored the humanitarian crisis precipitated by poorly planned regional policy, and to add additional insult, has denied political asylum or the ability to stay in the country for many of the people who bore the brunt of these failed policies. Instead of intervening where these problems are rooted, the US continues to send these repressive governments more financial and material assistance, which in turn, are used to suppress workers movements and their families. It seems that we haven’t progressed far from the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s and so on, when the U.S. government was supporting murderous dictators that safeguarded our government’s interests abroad and in the Cold War. What Obama is doing goes contrary to the values of family and human rights. In fact it goes contrary to common sense, as if returning someone who is abused, back to the abuser.

El Comité calls on President Obama to cease these senseless actions with raids and arrests of innocent people who are being sent back to face more abuse and the very real threat of death. We call on Hillary to openly condemn this action and commit to a just solution and for a compassionate Immigration Reform that respects civil, human and labor rights. Finally we call on every democratic loving person to protest these actions and to join us on January 18th at the MLK Jr Rally and March to denounce these hideous actions against humanity. Likewise, we also invite those of like mind to join us on May 1st and hit the streets to demand a Just Immigration Reform and an end to racism, xenophobia, sexism and hate!

This post has been updated.