Reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity in Jerome echoed into Blaine County last week, as rumors of agents in Bellevue paralyzed undocumented immigrants in the south county.
The speculation turned out the be just that—false, according to multiple sources who investigated the claims that ICE agents had taken up at the Silver Creek Hotel on Main Street. But the story circulated quickly Thursday night and into Friday, resulting in a real effect as conjecture lingered into the weekend.
“It was a scare,” said Sergio Ruiz, a prominent member of the local Hispanic community. “A lot of people did not go to work last Friday. Others, they were very afraid. I don’t know how it started, but it was not good.”
On Thursday, Jerome County immigration activist Maria Bucklew posted a video to Facebook claiming that ICE agents from out of state had rented 14 to 18 rooms at a Best Western in Jerome. A division of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE is in charge of arresting, detaining and ultimately deporting undocumented immigrants living in the county.
“I know they are free to go wherever they want, and do anything they want to do, but I hope they’re not scaring our community,” Bucklew said on July 18. “This is not good.”
An employee at the hotel would not give out information on customers, but did say that the guests Bucklew asked about were from Portland.
“They don’t tell us what’s going on, either,” she said in the video. “They don’t tell us why they’re here.”
Shortly after, a Jerome concert venue canceled “El Tour de Idaho de Los Inquietos,” a Latino music festival scheduled for Saturday, citing Bucklew’s video and safety concerns for its attendees.
“We stand with our brothers in Jerome,” the Colombia Event Center posted on Facebook in Spanish.
First reported on July 18 by the Twin Falls Times-News and The Idaho Statesman, the cancellation came less than a week after highly publicized promises by the federal government to execute raids in major American cities.
Jerome Police Chief Dan Hall told the Times-News that he had not been contacted by ICE, but that “it is absolutely possible that ICE could do a raid and we wouldn’t know about it.”
Here, neither the Bellevue Marshal’s Office nor the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office had heard from the agency, either—though a spokeswoman for the Marshal’s Office said she would not comment to the press if she had.
ICE is not required to reach out to area law enforcement, Sheriff Steve Harkins said, but “in the past, local agencies generally receive some notification from them.”
Amid the chatter, Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns looked into the rumors himself Thursday night.
“I had some citizens calling, other elected officials calling, so I checked it out,” Burns told the Idaho Mountain Express. “There was concern, more than anything. Is it true or not—and what would it look like if there was some sort of crackdown?”
Burns said there was nothing behind the stories. Ruiz said he also investigated, and was satisfied that ICE hadn’t visited the hotel.
Even with the claims debunked, many valley Latinos, immigrants and their supporters remained on edge Monday, according to Sarah Sentilles, co-founder of the Alliance of Idaho, a Hailey-based immigrant advocacy group.
“Jerome was a spark, but the fires were already burning,” she said. “Living in a small town, we feel protected, in some ways. By how fast this spread, it revealed the fear that’s always there. People were willing to lose their jobs to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
“I heard a community terrified for friends, co-workers and neighbors. People are scared all the time. The rhetoric from the administration has ratcheted up that fear, but the anxiety is there all the time.”