The sheriff of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish and federal officials have admitted to conducting an unlawful probe for illegal aliens working at clean-up stations for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sheriff Jack Stephens initially denied any involvement and federal authorities said they were conducting a training exercise, not a raid, according to reports. But on June 8, Stephens told a magazine’s Web site that he in fact requested federal immigration officials to search for undocumented workers several weeks ago.
Stephens released a statement to ColorLines magazine saying he was concerned that the BP spill would leave room for “illegal aliens” and “criminals” to come into the clean-up areas “under the guise of doing legitimate work.”
Reports first surfaced on June 4 that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials visited two oil spill command centers to round up foreign-born workers and check their documents. Stephens said he requested the search after he heard reports of illegal workers joining the oil clean-ups.
“We’re not worried about people who want to earn an honest buck,’’ Stephens said, according to RaceWire.com, a blog run by ColorLines. “But from the beginning [of the oil spill], we have been concerned about criminal elements coming into this area with the intention of establishing criminal enterprises.’’
Stephens said he is able to make a distinction between those who are at the clean-up centers to work, and those whose underlying intentions are to commit crimes.
“That happened after Hurricane Katrina and we don’t want it to happen again,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, ICE spokesman Brian Hale said the agency has conducted training on hiring requirements and performed work authorization checks at the cleanup sites, all of which were valid.
Checkpoints have been set up throughout the clean-up areas and the Sheriff’s Office is working with ICE to develop a credential system for BP subcontractor employees working with the clean-up efforts.
But immigration advocates said Stephens’ thinking is representative of a shared perspective among law enforcement officials in the area.
“It’s the same kind of language you see everywhere else at the local, state and federal policy level, where they try to take a harsh position and scare the public into thinking that anyone who might lack documentation and appears to be Latino is a criminal,” Lucas Diaz, executive director of Puentes New Orleans, said according to ColorLines.com.