About 30 women from Mujeres Unidas de Idaho gathered for lunch on Monday, Dec. 8, at Garcia's Tex-Mex Grill in Caldwell. Their guests: two federal prosecutors and Don Buechner, resident agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boise.
Four days prior, ICE had rounded up 16 Mexican workers at a Nampa wooden truss manufacturing plant, and some of the women had come to put a face to that cold acronym.
"I feel like because the Bush administration is on its way out, they're making a more pointed effort at deportation," said Raquel Reyes of the Community Council of Idaho, formerly the Idaho Migrant Council.
Buechner told the group that the yearlong investigation into illegal workers at Idaho Truss in Nampa started with an encounter with two "illegal aliens" working at Mountain Home Air Force Base. ICE also received three letters from concerned citizens alleging that Idaho Truss was firing legal workers and hiring illegal workers.
"Whether or not that's true or not, that sort of got us into investigating a little further," Buechner said.
The 16 workers arrested in Nampa on Thursday, Dec. 4, were all suspected of immigration violations; three had prior deportations on their record, and three had criminal convictions, said Lorie Dankers, ICE regional spokeswoman.
There were only 22 workers in the factory the morning of the raid, according to employee Alejandro Diaz, who was not arrested.
Diaz, an American citizen who has lived in Nampa for 13 years, said that when "la migra" showed up in the morning—with what seemed like 50 police officers, some with guns drawn—everyone freaked out.
His brother, who Diaz said originally entered the United States legally, was arrested in the raid.
Veronica Mason, who plans to marry Diaz's brother, spoke at a candlelight vigil Sunday night at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise.
"My fiance is about to be deported to Mexico," Mason said, holding up black and white sonogram printouts of their baby. "They won't let me go see him."
All 16 detainees were still in Idaho on Monday, Dankers said, but would be transferred to other states to go before an immigration judge.
According to Maria Andrade, a Boise attorney coordinating the men's legal support team, 10 of the arrestees are being held in Bannock County, in Eastern Idaho.
Ricardo Pineda, the newly appointed consul of Mexico in Boise, was able to interview the detainees soon after their arrest and is providing assistance and counseling to family members left behind.
Dankers said that agents entered Idaho Truss on a federal criminal search warrant but did not know exactly who they would find.
"We had a good sense of who was employed there," Dankers said.
At the Boise vigil, Rev. W. Thomas Faucher likened the broken immigration system to genocide, starvation, war and economic collapse, calling it another failure of law.
"We must work to expose the reality that an immigration raid and imprisonment of people in Nampa, Idaho, is actually part of the larger world realities of Darfur, Zimbabwe and Baghdad and essentially connected to the collapse of the international banks and the plunge of the world stock markets," Faucher, a pastor at St. Mary's, told the crowd at the Anne Frank memorial. "We must convince people that the injustices within our immigration laws are connected to the injustices within our economic laws. Does the United States have the ability and will to do this?"