Agents from the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were in Statesboro Tuesday, and took at least seven men into custody, according to Bulloch County Jail reports.
While the seven men were booked at the Bulloch County Jail, they were not held there, and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office was not involved in the targeted apprehensions.
Lindsay Williams, ICE public affairs officer, said the exercise was not a “raid or round-up,” but agents made their rounds in efforts to locate and apprehend “targeted” or specific people. However, if agents come across others who are in the country illegally while they are operating the targeted exercise, they may also take those people into custody, he said.
Calls Tuesday to the Statesboro Herald indicated the agents visited several areas near Statesboro. Williams said immigration issues are not criminal, but civil matters, and as of Tuesday there were no criminal charges against any of the seven. Further charges are possible but information on any charges was not immediately available Tuesday.
The seven men taken into custody Tuesday are as follows: Roy Claudio-Ramirez, 26, Old Register Road; Meliton Francisco-Lutario, 46, Sandpiper Lane; Ricardo Rodriguez, 29, Burkhalter Road; Juan Carlos Avalos Dajui, 23, Highway 301 South; Martimiano Moguel-Silva, 36, Highway 301 South; Juan-Gabriel Osorio, 42, Bird Ro; and Zalatiel Sangerman, 43, Highway 301 South.
During the ordeal, friends and relatives went to the Bulloch
County Jail seeking information and explanations.
Local Unitarian Universalist minister the Rev. Jane Page went to the sheriff’s headquarters and jail as well Tuesday morning to offer assistance and advocacy to families of the detained immigrants.
At first an Immigration and Customs Enforcement representative who was talking to family members in the sheriff’s office lobby told them could not bond out the detained individuals or visit them and that they would be taken to the Irwin County Detention Center later in the day, Page said.
“I was there as a local minister trying to advocate for people in need in the community,” Page said. “This could have been any people in need, and I’d advocate for them or try to help them find out where their loved ones were or if they were going to be able to bail them out.”
She said she asked to see the sheriff, and she and the family members met first with Sheriff Noel Brown and then with two Immigration and Customs Enforcement representatives.
Speaking for Brown, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bill Black told the Statesboro Herald the sheriff’s office was not involved with the ICE efforts except to allow the agents to use the facility for booking.
“Apparently (Brown) was walking through the lobby and spoke with some family members” of the men taken into custody by ICE, he said. “Sheriff Brown asked the ICE agents to step out and advise the family members where the detainees were to be taken. They explained to the families that they would only be processed here and then would be taken to another facility for housing as Bulloch County does not have a contract to hold federal prisoners. As far as I know that was the extent of our involvement. “
Brown discontinued holding federal prisoners earlier this year, citing jail overcrowding as a reason.
But the sheriff “was very patient and took up a lot of time with us but said he was not going to release (the men in custody),” Page said. “He said he did not know about the raid when it happened and that he was not at the jail when they brought them in.”
Brown told the family members that ICE was handling the situation because federal charges were involved and that the men would be transported from the jail be the end of the day, she said.
Page said she did not know how many families were represented by the five or six people present and officials would not tell them how many individuals were detained.
Records Tuesday showed seven had been booked at the jail, but it is possible additional people were booked after the daily jail report was released. If so, the new information will be published as it is received.
The ICE officials told the family members the detentions were the result of “a targeted effort and not a roundup,” Page said. But she added that the first immigration official they spoke to had said that the individuals' names could be on the list because of criminal activity or simply because they had been stopped or picked up before for some reason.
Some of the officials said that ICE was not taking more than one parent from a family because they did not want children to be left alone, Page said. Williams also said it is unusual for two parents to be taken into custody.
Page said all the detainees she heard mentioned were men. Family members were also told that detained individuals would be allowed a phone call after they arrived at the Irwin facility and that a judge will ultimately decide whether they could be released or might be deported.
Someone contacted Ric Stewart, one of the co-chairs of the nonprofit South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, about the incident. He is based in Tifton, not far from the Irwin facility in Ocilla, which is operated by Lasalle Corrections, a private contractor. He called it a “for-profit detention center.”
The support network operates a hospitality house for families who come to the area to visit detainees and has volunteers who visit people in detention who otherwise would not have visitors.
“We are trying to make ourselves available and prepare to assist the families and also help connect those men with pro bono legal representation if they need it,” Stewart told the Statesboro Herald.
Asked about the statement that this was “a targeted raid,” Stewart said this could mean different things.
“It can mean that they’re going after people who have criminal records who would pose a danger to the community, but I can tell you that a lot people that I visit at the detention center were picked up as part of so-called targeted raids, and what I have seen many times is that means something as simple as somebody had a minor drug charge from 15 or 20 years ago and all of a sudden they’re flagged years later,” Stewart said.
Often these are people who once had visas or legal status, but their visa expired or their status was affected by the criminal charges, he added.
Another thing that happens is that “a lot of people are picked up as collateral damage … because ICE was looking for someone else and asked a neighbor do you know so-and-so, and in the process they find out that the friendly neighbor who was acting in good faith doesn’t have documents,” Stewart said.
“I can’t speak to what happened in Bulloch County, but those are things that we encounter pretty frequently when we meet with people at Irwin,” he said.
The South Georgia Immigrant Support Network’s toll-free number for bilingual services is 877-545-2473 and its email address is email@example.com
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at 912-489-9458. Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.