(WKRN) — Like every state in America, Tennessee is home to undocumented immigrants. Some fleeing from their native countries for refugee, better work and opportunities, while others simply on the run, and committing criminal activity in the process.
With 26 Immigration Customs Enforcement field offices across the nation, Tennessee falls under the New Orleans field office. This includes Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
According to data from ICE, arrests in 2018 for the New Orleans field office were at 10,270, ranking in the top five offices for number of arrests. That same year, 10,763 people were removed by ICE.
Here in Tennessee, and especially locally, ICE activity may appear to be on the rise, but a spokesperson for the Tennessee area says that’s not the case.
“ICE is a federal law enforcement agency and we’re enforcing federal laws passed by congress and that law has been in place for decades,” said Bryan Cox, Press Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Advocates for immigrants say President Trump’s push for removing undocumented immigrants in our country contributes to heightened ICE activity.
“Obviously different administrations will set different priorities, which this agency follows,” said Cox.
However, ICE says it does not conduct any type of indiscriminate raids.
“When ICE officers go out to make arrests, they’re going to specific places, looking for specific persons,” said Cox.
Now let’s take a look at stories of past ICE activity across Tennessee. These stories show how not only individuals are impacted, but also businesses, families and communities.
“It’s really frustrating for us knowing that one of our family members are going to detained or deported,” said a family member of one a slaughterhouse worker.
One of the most notable situations involving ICE in Tennessee happened on April 5, 2018.
“This day will forever be etched in my mind and in my heart. It was a crisis. It was like a bomb went off,” said one witness.
The quaint community of Bean Station is tucked away in northeast Tennessee, home to 3,000 people.
Large cash withdrawals led federal authorities to a cattle slaughterhouse there to execute a search warrant, officials said. What began as a criminal raid turned into an immigration operation.
As a result, nearly 100 people were detained. ICE continuing to reiterate a so called ‘raid’ was never the initial plan.
“There was a significant amount of just outright falsehoods by people who were speculating and spreading rumors and that’s just not true. That case was always a federal criminal investigation,” said Cox.
A year later, some still await court dates. Of the 97 workers detained, 13 people accepted voluntary departure and have left the country, six were deported, five remain in federal custody on criminal charges, not immigration charges, and 73 are home with their families fighting deportation.
The owner of the facility recently pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Another significant case involving immigration enforcement was in Hamilton County in April of this year. Deputies arrested undocumented immigrant, Edgar Vasquez Diaz for driving under the speed limit and without a license.
“And the police department called ICE voluntarily. Instead of that, they could have given him a ticket,” said Anabella, Diaz’ wife.
Diaz was held on a $15,000 bond and detained for two months before reuniting with his family.
“Today we rest, and we celebrate,” said Annabella.
Here locally, in addition to recent ICE activity in Antioch and Hermitage, an undocumented teen was placed under arrest.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Franklin Pineda-Caceres re-entered the U.S illegally two months ago after being deported in 2014. The recent arrest comes after Pineda-Caceres was accused of kidnapping and beating a Nashville high school student for not joining a gang.
News 2 is digging deeper into ICE activity in Tennessee, the dynamics involved and the debate that has followed. See our special reports all day Thursday in every newscast. Click here to read more.