SUN VALLEY, Calif. - Federal immigration agents arrested a total of 23 people illegally working in the United States in several raids throughout the day on Wednesday.
Following a morning raid on Sun Valley Floral Farms by agents on Wednesday, they searched nine other locations in Humboldt County later that afternoon, leading to two more arrests.
The sweep by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents was the result of an ongoing investigation into the Sun Valley Group facility on the outskirts of Arcata, which began in November 2007.
Wednesday's raid on the company resulted in 19 arrests, while agents arrested two at residences of Sun Valley workers in McKinleyville and Eureka, said ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice.
Two more workers from Sun Valley turned themselves in at the McKinleyville Coast Guard Station, where detainees were being interviewed and processed by ICE, she said.
One other worker ICE sought out was being held by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office on unrelated charges and would go into ICE custody following the end of the local case, Kice said.
Only three of the 24 workers are in law enforcement custody - the others were either released on their own recognizance or placed under supervision, which could include electronic monitoring, pending immigration hearings, she said.
Two of those still in custody are being held on criminal charges, while one, who had previously been deported, will have to go before an immigration judge, she said.
ICE raided nine residences in Eureka, Arcata, McKinleyville and Fortuna. Although ICE wouldn't disclose at the time the exact locations of all of the raids - pending a return on the search warrants - The Eureka Reporter found two of the residences raided by agents in Fortuna.
One location raided by ICE was an apartment in a complex on the corner of Main and South Second streets.
Willie Bramlett, who lives in that area of town, said he watched as agents surrounded the complex around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
About 10 to 15 agents, some wielding machine guns, went up to the apartment, knocked on the door and then proceeded to use a battering ram to open it up, Bramlett said.
"They knocked and then bashed it in," he said.
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A man who lived nearby, who requested to be anonymous, said the unit was occupied by an older woman and a young man.
While he agrees that illegal immigrants committing crimes should be arrested, he said he doesn't understand why the government targets hard-working people.
"I don't understand it," he said of the raids. "These people work, pay taxes and support their family."
Down the road, in a trailer park behind the closed-down Mi Rancho Mexican Restaurant, agents also raided the home of another Sun Valley worker.
After talking with several people in the area who witnessed the raid, it was learned that at least 10 agents spent almost an hour searching for a man suspected of still living in the residence, but had since moved away.
As to whether the recent raids resonated similar feelings of fear in the immigrant community, as seen after ICE raided locations throughout Fortuna in June 2007, remains unclear at this point.
Several attempts at contacting people at homes around where the raids took place in Fortuna elicited no responses, although movement could be seen inside.
Last time ICE raids occurred, several families pulled their children out of schools, but on Thursday, there didn't seem to be much of a change.
At South Fortuna Elementary School, which is between the two locations raided, Principal Jeff Northern said he wasn't sure if absences that day were related to the raids.
Both Fortuna Middle School and Fortuna Union High School officials said that it was a normal school day for them.
As to whether this latest chapter in ICE raids is over for now, Kice said that the investigation is ongoing.
"I anticipate there may be additional arrests," she said, as agents are still going through physical evidence and interviews.