HAVERHILL — In a public Facebook post Thursday, City Councilor Andy Vargas said he had gotten reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were conducting raids in the city and had picked up non-criminal offenders.
However, a spokesman for ICE said later in the day that no raids happened in Haverhill Thursday.
"The rumors are false as far as I can ascertain,'' ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said. "ICE was not involved.''
Vargas posted on Facebook about noon Thursday in both English and Spanish that people should spread the word about the raids and let families become aware of their rights.
Vargas also listed his cell phone number and a fact sheet put out by the American Civil Liberties Union with instructions of what to do if ICE agents should come to homes in Haverhill.
Early Thursday night, when asked about the Facebook post, Vargas said his job as a city councilor is to inform and educate people about their rights.
"In our country, human beings have rights. Even if you're visiting from France, you have rights," Vargas said. "We've been hearing confirmed reports nationwide about ICE operations. Therefore, when I receive compelling information about ICE activity in Haverhill, I'm going to take my job as a public official seriously and educate people on those rights."
Vargas, 23, is the first Latino to serve on Haverhill's City Council.
Vargas said he is aware of one city resident who was taken into custody by ICE officers Thursday, but he could provide no other details.
When asked after Vargas' post appeared if any ICE agents were conducting raids in the city Thursday, Neudauer said he was looking into the situation, but that the agency was not conducting any raids in Haverhill or elsewhere in New England similar to the ones in other parts of the country last week.
In those raids, federal authorities arrested nearly 700 people in several states, actions which Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said were "routine, targeted arrests" in a statement released Monday.
"ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years," Kelly said, adding the focus of the enforcement operations is consistent with actions carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.
Last week, ICE officers in the Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City areas arrested more than 680 people who pose a threat to "public safety, border security or the integrity of our nation’s immigration system," according to a statement released by ICE Monday.
The statement said about 75 percent of the people arrested were criminal aliens convicted of crimes including murder, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual assault of a minor, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, indecent liberties with a minor, drug trafficking, battery, assault, DWI and weapons charges.
Neudauer reiterated Thursday afternoon shortly after Vargas' Facebook post that ICE officers target and arrest criminal aliens and other people who are in violation of the country's immigration laws every day.
When told of Vargas' Facebook post, Neudauer declined to comment on specific statements made by elected officials.
But when asked earlier in the day to comment on the talk of raids in Haverhill, Neudauer said unverified reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps are "false, dangerous and irresponsible.''
"These reports create mass panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,'' Neudauer said. "Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.''
Vargas said Thursday night his intention in making the Facebook post was not to incite hysteria, adding "others are doing a fine job of that."
"These are real families that are living in fear of potential separation,'' Vargas said. "I'm going to take every responsible precaution we can.''
Vargas said he and other community leaders are planning a meeting with members of the community to further inform them of their legal rights with regard to immigration-related issues.
When asked to comment on the talk of raids in Haverhill, Mayor James Fiorentini said he hadn't seen Vargas' Facebook post. Fiorentini said he didn't have a problem with Vargas who "represents his constituents well.''
"Normally, ICE calls us when they will be in the city, but not always,'' Fiorentini said.
Fiorentini said he had been in contact with Haverhill Police Chief Alan DeNaro for much of Thursday, and in the comment section on Vargas' Facebook post, Fiorentini wrote that Haverhill police were not aware of any raids in the city.
Calls made by The Eagle-Tribune to both Haverhill police and State Police seeking information on whether they were involved in any raids in the city Thursday were not returned.
Fiorentini said he has heard concerns from many people in the city's Latino and Muslim communities about rumored actions from law enforcement.
"There are rumors going around that police are going to be going around stopping people and asking for ID. That's not true," Fiorentini said. "I know people are nervous and concerned, but we are a city of immigrants. Our immigrant communities are welcome here — and that's never going to change."
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