ICE raid has chilling effect on Moab workers, police chief says

(Courtney Tanner | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jim Winder, the chief of police for Moab, stands on the side of the road near the Colorado River on April 7, 2018.

Federal agents detained undocumented immigrants in a Moab raid Friday, leaving some residents too afraid to go to work Saturday.

Moab Police Chief Jim Winder said he heard of the impending operation Thursday in a call from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, which didn’t tell Moab police details about the operation, other than the fact that it would occur.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, didn’t respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment Saturday afternoon.

Rhiana Medina, the executive director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, has been speaking with families of detained people, she said, adding that agents picked up nine people. They had not been transported to a federal detention center, Medina said Saturday night, declining to specify where they were.

Unlike in an ICE enforcement operation in Moab a few years ago, which appeared to target undocumented immigrants who had DUI convictions, Medina said she can’t find a pattern in the recent operation.

“There isn’t one specific charge they all have in common. Some of them have a criminal history. Some of them don’t. Some of them are new arrivals. Some of them have been here a long time,” she said. “There does not seem to be a pattern at all.”

Regardless of motive, Winder said, the operation has had a chilling effect on the southeastern Utah town, which hosts a vibrant economy employing a large population of immigrants, documented and undocumented.

"What I would tell you is they’re having trouble getting beds made and meals served,” he said.

In tourist communities such as Moab, Park City and West Wendover, Winder said, an ICE operation like Friday’s “just shuts down town.” He said he’s interested to see the long- and short-term effects on his city’s economy.

Medina agreed that the operation had scared some residents into not showing up for work, adding that many of those people aren’t undocumented — just afraid.

The operation also stirred hostilities between residents who support immigration enforcement and those who don’t. In comments on the Moab Police Department’s Facebook page, many criticized local police for not getting involved.

Some questioned why police didn’t inform the community of the operation. Others asked why police didn’t help.

Winder’s answer: We can’t.

Telling residents about the operation would be obstruction, he said, and police are prohibited from helping federal agents with immigration enforcement.

In the aftermath of the operation, Medina said she hopes immigrants don’t confuse local police for federal agents; she wants them to trust law enforcers in their community.

Winder said he has the same worry, which is part of why he posted a statement about the operation on the department’s Facebook page.

It read: “This issue has and will continue to create strong emotions and reactions. Regardless of this debate local law enforcement, including the Moab City Police Department, must continue to serve and protect all ‘persons within the United States.’ We treat every victim of a crime with the same respect and dignity that they are owed as a human being, regardless of their immigration status.”