ICE officials deny any ‘large scale enforcement actions’ around Kona coffee farms

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series on how enhanced immigration policies are impacting and will continue to impact Hawaii Island residents and the coffee farming industry. Part one deals with recent enforcement activity on the island and contextualizes concerns. Part two on Wednesday will deal with reinstated or revamped directives from the federal government, local police involvement in the enforcement of those directives and their impact on immigrant communities.

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Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series on how enhanced immigration policies are impacting and will continue to impact Hawaii Island residents and the coffee farming industry. Part one deals with recent enforcement activity on the island and contextualizes concerns. Part two on Wednesday will deal with reinstated or revamped directives from the federal government, local police involvement in the enforcement of those directives and their impact on immigrant communities.

KAILUA-KONA — The Kona Coffee Farmers Association assumed a proactive approach to deal with growing unrest among some of its members, as well as the immigrant communities they employ, following months of ramped up rhetoric and policy surrounding U.S. immigration enforcement.

The association sent out a mass email March 7 detailing the rights of both farmers and immigrant laborers as applied to dealings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, also known as ICE agents.

Suzanne Shriner, president of the association, said the communication was prompted after she received multiple reports from association members of ICE agents conducting inquiries and/or operations in both North and South Kona.

“They entered at least three farms that we’re aware of and either attempted to serve administrative warrants or were just wandering around when they shouldn’t be without notifying the landowners that they were there,” she said.

Shriner added she was unaware if anyone had been seized by agents during the visits.

She said the association acknowledges the legitimacy of ICE operations if they are conducted appropriately, but the concern is that such is not always the case. Much of that disquiet revolves around the use of administrative removal warrants, which are different from criminal warrants signed by a judge.

Administrative warrants, written by officials within the department after establishing probable cause that a person may be an undocumented immigrant, allow for the arrest of that individual. But even then, ICE agents are not permitted to enter private property to execute such warrants unless granted consent by the property owner.

“We want to cooperate with ICE, but we also need to protect our businesses and make sure that anything done is being done above board,” Shriner said. “We’re just a little troubled by the way we hear it went down.”

Industry concern over intensified immigration policies under the new administration stems from a depleted workforce threatening the profitability of coffee farming operations. Last year, Shriner said, 10-20 percent of the crop was left on the trees due to a labor shortage.

New immigration policy threatens to cut the workforce further, and it isn’t just undocumented immigrants who have begun to fear working in the industry makes them vulnerable.

“This fear not only harms the undocumented workers, it harms the documented workers we rely on so heavily,” said Shriner, adding that the majority of permanent and part-time coffee workers have legal status. “They’ll stop coming to work. They’ll stop showing up in the fields. They’ll stop coming over to Hawaii.”

Karina, 44, who asked to be referenced by only her first name, is an undocumented, Mexican immigrant who has worked in the coffee industry in Kona for the past two years. She lives with eight family members, speaks only Spanish and her job is her sole source of income.

Losing her employment could leave her life in peril, as she requires surgery for a health condition and does not have health insurance due to her undocumented status. In the summer of 2016, Karina was forced to hide among the coffee fields in which she works after co-workers informed her ICE was on the premises.

“We don’t have freedom due to our immigration status,” she said through a translator. “We live in fear every day. We feel trapped that we can’t go out in public for fear of being discovered.”

WHT was unable to reach the owners of the three farms ICE agents reportedly visited. But Angela Dean — president of Comunidad Latina De Hawaii, a nonprofit on Hawaii Island working with the immigrant and farm worker communities in a variety of capacities — confirmed the veracity of Shriner’s claims that ICE had been reported on three properties.

She said ICE raids and arrests are nothing new in Hawaii and aren’t relegated only to farming concerns.

Dean recounted an incident in which ICE officers attempted to seize an individual from a place of residence without a warrant. An ICE officer hand wrote a warrant on scene, she said.

She’s also received multiple reports over the years of ICE agents approaching people in public spaces throughout Kona absent legitimate context for an inquiry, which she said is a clear indicator of racial profiling.

“ICE needs to announce who they are and their intentions, and then they need to provide a warrant,” Dean said. “(Immigrants) should never feel they have to state what their immigration status is. If they are in their homes and ICE shows up, they should demand to see an arrest warrant. If the person ICE is looking for does not reside there, they shouldn’t open the door.”

ICE Western Regional Communications Director/Spokesperson Virginia Kice wrote an email to WHT Friday indicating that reports of the department’s presence and activities in Kona have been either largely exaggerated or are completely false, contradicting the claims made by Shriner and Dean.

Kice said that ICE’s two primary enforcement divisions — Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement Removal Operations — communicated to her that neither group had “recently carried out any large-scale enforcement actions targeting coffee growers in Kona.”

“In all instances … our arrests are targeted and lead-driven — we don’t engage in indiscriminate sweeps or raids,” she said. “These false claims about ICE sweeps are dangerous and irresponsible. They create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger.”

Despite that, Karina said she feels discriminated against every day. Dean added those feelings are pervasive throughout Hawaii Island’s Hispanic community, which she estimates is roughly 90 percent documented.

“I am more fearful now with Trump’s administration because we see what is happening across the mainland, and our future in the U.S. is not promised,” Karina said. “I feel like Latinos are being targeted as “the illegals” that they want to remove from the U.S.”

Those worries aren’t likely to relent any time soon, as the Trump administration reactivated the Secure Communities initiative in late January and is effecting a directive on April 2 that will ramp up ICE issuance of immigration detainers.

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The two measures ask for assistance from state and local law enforcement agencies and are geared at using nationwide databases to locate and deport undocumented immigrants who find their way into the justice system for a wide array of offenses, many of them minor.

These developments have the capacity to continuously strain both immigrant communities and Kona coffee farming operations indefinitely.

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