Media Shines Spotlight on Small-Town ICE Raids

April has been a particularly busy month for ICE arrests. Some non-metropolitan raids haven’t been able to garner national media attention, but one raid in a city of about 3,000 people did.

Over the course of six days earlier this month — in what Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called “Operation Keep Safe in New York” — ICE agents arrested 225 immigrants in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and three counties in the Hudson Valley.

According to WNYC, ICE claimed that about 80 percent of those taken into custody were either convicted criminals or were charged with crimes, but the agency failed to specify whether the arrests were based on charges rather than on convictions. The raids generated national news coverage in outlets like Fox News and Newsday, as well as local outlets like NY1.

There have also been other ICE raids in areas all over the country. In the city of Rome in central New York state, ICE agents raided a man’s dairy farm without providing a warrant, arrested one of the man’s workers, then handcuffed the man and threatened him with arrest after he began to take a video of what he deemed to be the agents’ “unprofessional” behavior, according to a report.

ICE has also raided areas across North Carolina, resulting in 40 arrests that have been condemned by some of the state’s representatives. During one of those arrests, according to The Herald Sun, agents tricked a detainee’s daughter in order to gain entrance into the family home.

The raids across North Carolina have led to outrage among residents of the state over the morality, or lack thereof, of these raids as well as, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the effect that arrests of members of the Hispanic community is having on the state’s construction and agriculture industry

In response, citizens have conducted small protests at city council meetings in Durham, as well as a vigil outside an ICE office and a hilariously disruptive protest at a public picnic shelter where protestors blared horns and chanted as federal immigration authorities were eating lunch in the small city of Hendersonville.

While those raids garnered some national media attention from places like The Daily Beast and Uproxx, the one raid this month that has garnered the most press was the raid on a meatpacking plant in Bean Station, Tenn.

Bean Station — a rural town in Tennessee that is situated in a county that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016 — was raided by federal immigration officials on April 5. The raid resulted in the arrest of 97 immigrants, the majority of who were from Mexico and lived not in Bean Station but in the neighboring town of Morristown, according to The Washington Post.

As Nashville Public Radio reported, immigration rights groups have said that it is the largest workplace raid since Trump took office. The next day, a Friday, over 500 kids — the vast majority of who were Latinx students whose families were directly affected by the raid — were absent from school.

The raid and the school absences were covered by CNN, Vice, The Washington Post, Splinter and The Intercept. All of these outlets covered the raids by telling stories about the families that were torn apart and reporting on the areas outside of Tennessee where those detained are now being kept. However, the biggest story on the raid came from the New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer.

Blitzer’s story — which was published on the New Yorker’s website on April 19 — is a dispatch from Morristown. The story outlines the small town’s reactions to the raid — most of which are fueled with outrage and conviction that the ICE arrests are incongruous with the residents’ Christian values.

Per Blitzer’s story:

“Immigration is kind of a hot-button topic here,” Hank Smith, a 50-year-old salesman from Morristown, told me. “Some people feel like immigrants are taking our jobs, that they’re not paying their taxes. But others are more sympathetic.”

Smith counts himself among the latter group. “I’m a Christian; God loves everybody equally. And I never had a problem with anyone being here,” he said. Nevertheless, in 2016, Smith voted for Trump. He had been mostly indifferent to Trump’s anti-immigrant invective on the campaign trail; the rhetoric didn’t resonate with him personally, but it didn’t alienate him, either.

“My kids were getting to an age where they’d be going to work, so the economy was the major issue for my family,” he told me. “It’s the things that affect us the most that we vote on. And immigration didn’t really affect me before. But then this raid happened.”

Blitzer’s dispatch from Morristown is an essential piece of coverage of the types of raids that are happening across the country. When one reads the piece, it’s impossible to not draw parallels to stories of the raids happening in places like Rome and North Carolina.

Those are all areas that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the 2016 election and where agriculture is a focal point of the local economy–an industry whose manpower mostly consists of immigrants.

While ICE raids in areas like New York City are equally essential and heartbreaking, coverage like Blitzer’s is essential for the public to put a face to these rural communities that are being affected by ICE raids, and the contradictions that lie within the non-immigrant communities in these areas who rely on immigrants’ hard work.

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