A deeply divided Moab reopens for business after ICE raid

(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. He stepped down from his position as Salt Lake County sheriff in July 2017.

Businesses reopened Monday in Moab, although the ICE raid that resulted in nine residents being taken into custody left the community deeply divided.

The Moab Chamber of Commerce didn’t have any immediate figures about how many restaurants and hotels were affected by the loss of employees who were arrested or who chose to stay home. “But I know there were businesses over the weekend that had to close down, or at least cut back to half menus,” said chamber director Lacey Shumway. “It definitely had an effect on us.”

Federal agents made the arrests, apparently for violations of immigration law, on Friday afternoon. On Saturday and Sunday, area workers — even those who are in the United States legally — stayed home for fear of additional raids. According to Moab Police Chief Jim Winder, some businesses were operating Monday with reduced staff because of fear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would return and make more arrests.

Still, Winder added, “It appears that things are returning to a somewhat normal situation. Businesses are reopening and people are going to work.”

Rhiana Medina, executive director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, agreed that “some people have returned to work. But we’re definitely still pretty busy assisting people."

“We're not aware of any new arrests since Friday,” she added. “We still just have the nine that we have confirmed. We do know that 11 people were actually arrested that day, but two may have been not from our community.”

She said her staff is aware of where the nine people from the Moab area are being held, but they’re not releasing locations, which are “temporary and could change at any time.”

ICE has not released any information and did not reply to messages Monday.

Medina said the multicultural center has been in the middle of what she called a “communitywide conversation.”

“We've heard a lot of opinions,” she said. “We're getting offers of help, and then people expressing opinions on the other side — that anybody without [legal] status isn't entitled to any kind of support.”

Social media posts are replete with strong opinions on both sides, including these on Facebook:

• “Wow the ridiculousness to feel fear of ICE – REALLY? Advise to Rhiana Medina & other’s in the same boat... Be legal and you will have no fear!"

• "It is simple, enter legally, stay legally, and you are welcome. Please respect and obey our laws. Please assimilate and learn our language.”

And on the other side:

• “These raids are indescribably cruel.... ICE has a license to terrorize and disrupt, and without even basic accountability to local law enforcement.”

• “These were hard-working folks, supporting their families. Moab is a tourist town, and this ill-considered raid accomplished nothing, except hurt businesses and damage families. ICE is out of control. Shut it down.”

According to Winder — who has made it clear local police are not involved in immigration enforcement — one local man has been “erroneously identified as being the individual who contacted ICE. And the community is up in arms, kind of blaming this one individual” who is afraid he’s going to be persecuted and assaulted.

“The irony is that he’s another immigrant — a legal immigrant. And he’s certainly not had anything to do with this," Winder said. "But everybody’s looking for the villain. It’s ‘who the hell can we blame now?’”

Police are trying to get the word out that the reports are false and “de-escalate the situation. It seems really heightened in a small community,” he said.

“We’re definitely trying squash rumors,” Medina said. “At a time like this, it’s more important than ever to not let hate divide us.”

She agreed with Winder that Moab is “getting back to normal.” The two planned to meet Monday to “try and rebuild some line of communication between the immigrant community and local law enforcement,” Winder said. “But we’re still waiting for the next shoe to drop.”