Citizens have shown concern after immigration authorities made five arrests at a Morganton plant Wednesday.
Five people were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers Wednesday at Case Farms in Morganton, according to two statements from ICE officials. All of the individuals arrested were said to have criminal backgrounds, and the arrests were said to be part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
But a man at a community meeting Wednesday night wasn’t so sure.
“These aren’t really criminals,” the man said. “They’re taking families away. You have kids, wives, husbands left behind, children are going to end up going to DSS or something and it’s for nothing.”
One of the individuals detained appeared to be Gaspar Lopez Lopez, said Ronald Bacilio Castro, community organizer for Western North Carolina Workers center. Lopez was a Case Farms employee since at least 1995, according to court documents.
Despite claims from ICE officials that the individuals detained “have prior criminal histories ranging from aggravated identity theft to illegal re-entry of a previously deported felon,” The News Herald could not locate any such court documents for Lopez in North Carolina records.
Instead, the most serious charge under Lopez’ name was a driving while impaired charge from 1995 that had a pending order for arrest. According to the citation, Lopez had a blood alcohol content of 0.17, but he had not been convicted.
A search of the ICE website revealed that Lopez was being held at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, as of Friday afternoon just before 5 p.m.
ICE Spokesperson Carissa Cutrell told The News Herald on Thursday that, to receive information on the individuals arrested by ICE, the newspaper would have to provide names and dates of birth for those individuals arrested.
When The News Herald provided that information Friday, ICE Spokesperson Bryan Cox sent another version of the original statement on the arrests, but no specific information on the individuals arrested was released.
That wasn’t the only concern community members had.
A resident of High Ridge Drive said she woke up early Wednesday morning to agents knocking on her door.
“Somebody was knocking the door so hard, like three times,” the woman, who didn’t want to be named, said. “I had to wait. When I was looking at the [security] cameras I saw these guys at my doors.”
She said she went to put her contact lenses on and when she returned, one of the men at her door had his ear up to the door listening for movement inside.
“I just decided not to open the door,” she said.
She said the arrests saddened her.
“I feel so sad, because I’m from Mexico and I’m not scared of them,” she said. “I’m scared [for] all my people who are not legal here and they have family that have to go work every day and come back, and maybe one of them never come back. Maybe he has kids at home waiting for him.”
She said she couldn’t think of a reason why ICE agents would have knocked on her door.
“I don’t know why they’re going straight to my house,” the woman said.
She said she’s been talking to her neighbors to figure out what to do since the incident.
“We have to talk,” the woman said. “Some people stay quiet, go inside their house and turn off the lights in the afternoon. I’m not going to be quiet.”
The News Herald asked ICE officials Thursday if agents had visited homes on High Ridge Drive on Wednesday, but no clear answer was given.
There also was no clear answer to how long ICE planned to be in Burke County. .
“Deportation officers with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations conduct targeted immigration enforcement actions every day across the country,” a Thursday statement from Cutrell said.
According to the Highway Patrol, Valdese Police, Morganton Public Safety and the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, ICE officials didn’t inform them that they would be in Burke County making arrests.
Burke County Public Schools also has plans to help students in need after Wednesday's ICE arrests and if any other ICE arrests should happen in the future, according to a statement released to The News Herald on Saturday.
"As a district, our Student and Family Services Department, our school resource officers, our school counselors, our parent educators and our translators are prepared to come together and respond to meet students' needs," said a statement from Cheryl Shuffler, public relations officer for BCPS. "We are offering assistance to any student who requires any additional support services and are here to match them to resources in our community."
Making school a safe place for all students is crucial, the statement said.
"We want to assure parents that when their kids come to school, they will be safe, they will be fed breakfast and lunch and in some cases dinner and will receive the resources they need while they are at school," Shuffler said. "And we want to provide all students with a secure feeling while they are at school."
More information will be published as it becomes available.