Little is still known about the operations Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted in Morgantown on Aug. 15.
Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer and Morgantown’s Communication Manager Andrew Stacy both confirmed
to The Dominion Post they received notice from the federal organization that agents would be in the area. Citizens reported seeing ICE in Sabraton, Star City and University Town Centre, but details were hard to come by.
The Dominion Post obtained information regarding one of the locations visited by ICE and two men who were detained in connection to that activity. The names of individuals, as well as the name of the location, are not being published to ensure the safety of those involved.
According to witnesses, ICE agents presented themselves at a local restaurant, saying they were looking for a specific employee. They identified the man by name and presented a photograph to restaurant staff.
“They came looking for a cook, but he doesn’t work here anymore,” said a restaurant worker. “He worked here but it’s been a month now since he left.”
When they were informed the employee no longer worked there, the agents said they needed to search the building and asked to see all the employees. They verified the identity of each employee to ensure none of them was the cook they sought.
“They wanted to see the people who were working,” said one of the restaurant managers. “They only asked for identification to know if that person was here.”
The agents asked for IDs, not for papers or any other form of documentation, and left shortly after confirming the cook was not present. It was only after the agents left restaurant employees realized two waiters were not present. They later confirmed with the waiters’ families that both men were detained while they were on their breaks, which coincided with the visit from ICE.
“One of them was detained in Cheat Lake, the other was sleeping in his truck. But we didn’t know that yet, not until after,” the restaurant worker said.
The detention of the waiters surprised restaurant staff because ICE agents made no indication they were looking for those two men, only the former cook.
“They don’t give you details, they can’t release them, why they take them or anything,” the restaurant’s manager said. “Yeah, it scares you, how could it not?”
This account appears to confirm the statement made by ICE officials on Aug. 16 stating, in part, ICE was not “currently conducting any large scale operations in Morgantown,” and the activity witnessed was part of “targeted enforcement operations” that occur nationwide every day.
“To work is everyone’s right and they only came to work and make their money. They’re not here to rob,” said a restaurant worker.
Reaction to the news of ICE’s presence varied around town depending on who was asked.
Speaking at a recent march in support of migrants, Morgantown Working Families chair Stephanie Zucker said the ICE action, “brings home the threat to immigrants all over the country, whether you’re at the border, whether you’ve already been here.”
Nagwa Wankey of African Caribbean Foods in Sabraton blamed the issue on the country’s immigration policy.
“You give them a chance to work, start a family, the chance to live, then you tell them to leave,” she said. “Just leave them alone. If you’ve lived somewhere for 15 years, you are a citizen.”
With the government releasing such little information about individual detentions, it is easy for people to become misinformed.
“Rumors go around and they say that people that aren’t even illegal immigrants get taken away by mistake and stuff so I think some of that just scares people,” said Jennifer Garcia of Garcia’s Grill.
A 2018 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found ICE detains dozens of U.S. citizens every year on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
Garcia did not note an impact on business due to the ICE actions, and only heard about it in the news.
“Hopefully it doesn’t scare away more people from coming to WVU and Morgantown,” she said.
The Dominion Post submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking more detailed information about the actions carried out by ICE in the Morgantown area. The newspaper awaits a response.