Two employees of a Raleigh produce company were picked up by ICE agents Thursday morning, a day one worker says will be forever marked by “terrible tension.”
Brothers Carlos Coronel-Leon and Sebastian Coronel-Leon are currently detained in the Alamance County jail after being arrested at D&R Quality Vegetables in North Raleigh. According to general manager Victor Torres, the brothers arrived at work a little after 7:00 a.m. Thursday to find two vehicles parked inside the warehouse’s fenced-in lot at 3808 Tarheel Drive.
A witness who was outside of the fence shared a video on Facebook as the arrests were happening. The footage, later picked up by community news site Enlace Latino NC, shows unmarked vans flashing blue lights and audible voices saying that “la migra” (or ICE) is making arrests.
These arrests come amid rumors in the immigrant community of stepped-up raids and arrests this week.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told the INDY in an email Friday night that he likely wouldn’t be able to release specifics of the case until Monday, “but in the meantime I will tell you that this arrest was conducted fully in accordance with federal law and agency policy—and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
On Monday, Cox said that the agents were looking for Carlos Coronel-Leon, who has a prior convicted for DWI. He was previously deported in 2010 and illegally reentered the country. HIs brother—who had also previously been reported and reentered the country, and who has some misdemeanors on his record—was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The brothers are now facing federal charges for illegally reentering into the country, and ICE is again seeking their removal.
Yesenia Polanco, a Durham-based lawyer representing the Coronel-Leon brothers, says the agents did not present a warrant for either detainee. Because they were in the parking lot—rather than the workplace or home—the agents likely did not need them, Polanco says.
“As soon as they arrived into the parking lot, [the brothers] were bombarded by what they said were several unmarked SUVs. Several agents appeared in plainclothes and badges. And literally, the only question they asked was, ‘Are you Carlos?’ They didn’t show them any documents.”
Both men have existing orders of deportation, which likely happened when they entered the country, Polanco says.
On Tuesday morning, Torres says plainclothes officers arrived at his warehouse asking for each of his employee’s I-9 documents. He says they wanted him to sign a paper authorizing them to enter the space to speak to employees. He refused.
The agents were from Homeland Security Investigations, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.
They handed him a document noting that an inspection was scheduled at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. On Wednesday, his accountant called the agency to confirm, and Torres says she was told it was just an audit that was meant to be “educational.”
Torres wasn’t there during the early morning arrests on Thursday because he was at a medical appointment.
In February, twenty-seven people were arrested in an ICE raid at Bear Creek Arsenal, a gun manufacturer in Sanford. Polanco says that HSI visited that site a few days prior to the raid, asking for the same I-9 documents, and seems to be collaborating more with ICE.
President Trump last week announced on Twitter that the previously announced ICE raids were being delayed.
Polanco urges caution regardless.
“When the quote-unquote mass raids were delayed, that’s just a tactic,” Polanco says. “There has been evidence of continuous detention [in North Carolina], and they say it’s periodic. It should be expected.”
It is within a business’s legal right to deny access and cooperation with ICE.
“The employer is not going to get into trouble by saying no,” says Polanco. “But then ICE has to work harder and figure out on their own who works there and who they are going to target.”
On Thursday morning, D&R employee Julian Abreu helped organize his fellow workers on the spot.
“The tension all day was terrible,” he says. “I am an activist in my community, but I had never lived through something like this in person.”
Workers watched from the warehouse, and the majority left soon after the arrests. Abreu says he informed his fellow workers that ICE agents could arrest anyone without a warrant signed by a judge, something he learned in formal community organizing trainings.
About fourteen employees were scheduled to work that day, according to Torres. Of them, only three remained at work, including Abreu. D&R has about sixty-five accounts throughout Wake County. Abreu worked through the night making vegetable deliveries to restaurants and markets.
“This is a terrible, illogical injustice,” he says. “The bewilderment it causes is terrible.”
Torres says the arrests have stunned the company’s workers.
“Our main concern is Carlos and Sebastian,” Torres says. “But many of our employees with DACA left [Thursday], because they are afraid and they don’t want to come back into work. And that’s completely understandable.”
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