PORT ORCHARD — When Miguel Francisco of Port Orchard rolled up to refuel his vehicle at a Shell gas station on the corner at Sedgwick and Bethel, he was in for the shock of his life.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents immediately pounced on the car as part of a reported sweep in search of undocumented immigrants across Kitsap County on Monday. Agents also were reported to have arrested several people in Port Orchard. The same occurred in Bremerton and a few other Kitsap locations, according to Ray Garrido, legal services director at Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center.
“We are deeply concerned about this action against our community,” Garrido said of the ICE sweep and arrests. “We will continue to support community members with legal representation and other forms of help.
“People should be aware that the recently passed Keep Washington Working Act restricts local law enforcement from enforcing immigration laws. Our local law enforcement community did not participate in this action. As they have said, they are here to protect our community, not enforce immigration law.”
While Francisco wasn’t arrested by ICE agents, he posted on Facebook that he was a victim of racial profiling.
“Just got raided at the Shell Gas Station [by] not 1, not 2 but 8 immigration police officers,” Francisco wrote on Facebook. “Didn’t break a single law, yet was harassed based on my ethnicity (skin tone). They tried barging into my car and [grabbing me] by force.”
He called it the “worst experience of my life” and said he felt humiliated having the agents try to engage him in front of television news reporters from Q13 Fox.
Francisco, who said he was born in the U.S. and is an American citizen, believes it might not be the last time ICE agents come after people based on the color of their skin. He did not immediately return a call from Kitsap Daily News for comment.
Garrido said similar sweeps have taken place on an increasing basis since last year, but what was different was that the agency had invited a local television news crew along to capture arrests on camera.
Referring to Francisco, Garrido said the action by ICE agents was based on racial profiling while the Port Orchard resident, who is of Latino heritage, was filling his tank at the gas station.
“Fortunately, this Kitsap community member was aware of his rights as ICE blocked his vehicle and indicated for him to roll down his window,” Garrido said in a statement released Tuesday. “Traumatizing as this experience was, he knew that he was not required to roll down his window or get out of his vehicle, and he called for help.”
Francisco videotaped the encounter and posted it on Facebook.
Officials from the federal agency did not respond to a request for comment about the reported activity in Kitsap County. On Monday, however, an ICE official told the Kitsap Sun that “We don’t conduct raids, we conduct targeted operations.”
The agency also would not confirm whether agents were in the county to arrest undocumented immigrants, or if so, how many had been detained.
Earlier this month, ICE invited members of the news media to tour a privately run immigrant detention center in Tacoma. Nathalie Asher, a Seattle field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, said ICE wanted to tell the “true story” about what happens inside its facilities, according to a report by Q13 Fox.
“I think it’s very important that we dispel a lot of the myths that unfortunately are out there about what it is that we’re doing,” Asher told Q13 Fox. She said a little more than 1,300 men and women at the processing center are awaiting the outcome of immigration proceedings.
ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman told reporters at the gathering that by labeling their activity “ICE raids,” the news media is engaging in “fear-mongering.”
“The public likes to use the word ‘raid,’ but a raid in its definition would be us randomly running in somewhere saying, ‘Who is here illegally?’ That’s not what we do. It’s a targeted enforcement action,” Roman said.
The Washington Immigration Solidarity Network has established a hotline for residents and has asked them to contact the organization should they observe ICE agents conducting stops in the community. The toll-free phone number is 844-724-3737.