Federal agents apprehend immigrant farmworkers, witnesses say

Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 7, 2017, by Dusty Christensen

HATFIELD — Immigration and Customs Enforcement took three immigrants into custody late Tuesday afternoon as they were driving from their jobs on a local farm back to their homes in Springfield, according to eyewitnesses and advocates.

“They took three men out of there, handcuffed them and drove away,” said Betsy Rider, who witnessed the arrests from her home across from where the raid took place on Elm Street.

Agents in five unmarked cars pulled over a van with farmworkers inside, according to Rider, who said some of the agents were wearing jackets identifying themselves as ICE agents.

“There were nine people that were driving home from the farm they work at in Hatfield together to Springfield,” said Gabriella della Croce, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center who conducted interviews with the six farmworkers whom ICE left inside the van on the side of the road.

“They took the driver, whose wife was left in the car,” della Croce said, adding that those who were left behind had to scramble to find someone who could drive their car back to Springfield.

The farmworkers declined to be interviewed by the Gazette, citing safety concerns.

“People were traumatized, several people were crying, they were terrified,” della Croce told the Gazette. “They looked shellshocked.”

Messages left for ICE representatives were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Tuesday’s raid came after a workplace raid in Holyoke on Monday, during which ICE detained a local immigrant active with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, according to organizer Rose Bookbinder.

Bookbinder said Anival Gomez, an active leader with the Workers Center, was taken into ICE custody together with co-worker Alvaro Gonzalez after a raid at the factory where they work.

“It’s really hard for us not to draw connections between his leadership, his organizing, and this direct attack on him,” Bookbinder said.

The Workers Center’s rapid response network has been in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union’s local immigrant protection project, she added, saying all five detainees have met with ACLU lawyers.

On Tuesday night, activists organized by the Workers Center staged a rally outside the Franklin County House of Correction, where they said detainees from the two raids had been taken into custody. Some 70 people attended to protest the immigrants’ detention, according to organizers.

Officials at the Franklin County House of Correction declined to comment for this story. Hatfield Police confirmed that ICE was in town, but could not provide further details.