The federal government does not seem to be following its own script when it comes to immigration enforcement.

Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested a Pacific County man who — while violating civil immigration laws by living in the country without permission — appears to have committed no other offense except daring to speak to a newspaper reporter.

The detention of Baltazar “Rosas” Aburto Gutierrez flies in the face of ICE officials’ claims the agency is focusing enforcement on those who pose a threat to national security or public safety. By arresting Aburto Gutierrez, a 15-year Washington resident with no apparent history of crimes here, immigration agents are showing President Donald Trump’s administration lacks a coherent immigration enforcement policy.

The arrest also looks vindictive. Aburto Gutierrez was an unnamed source in a Seattle Times article last month, recounting his longtime girlfriend’s arrest. Earlier, his nickname — not his full name — appeared in another local newspaper article about the immigration sting. He said when ICE agents came for him, they told him it was because of what he said in the newspaper.

An agency spokeswoman told Times reporter Nina Shapiro that ICE agents “don’t retaliate,” but the spokeswoman declined to comment on what role the stories may have played in Aburto Gutierrez’s arrest.

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These actions send a terrifying message to people who have been living in the United States for years and actively contributing to their communities. Aburto Gutierrez works in the shellfish industry, harvesting clams around Willapa Bay to raise money to send to his girlfriend and children in Mexico. Arresting immigrant workers such as Aburto Gutierrez hurts not just him and his family, but also the seafood industry at the heart of a struggling local economy.

While many local jurisdictions have taken a stand against enforcing federal immigration law, recent ICE arrests show immigrants without legal status still face a real threat from the federal government. For years, Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would offer immigrants legal status and a path to citizenship. As a result, cities and counties have adopted sanctuary policies with the goal of encouraging immigrants to participate in society, regardless of their residency status.

But ICE’s crackdown on otherwise law-abiding immigrants undermines those efforts. It dissuades them from reporting crimes, becoming active in their children’s schools and interacting with their neighbors. Effectively, it consigns them to the shadows.

Whether ICE agents arrested Aburto Gutierrez solely because he spoke to the press is unclear. But if they did, it shows the federal government is willing to target those who speak out — and people in similar circumstances will continue to be fearful.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Donna Gordon Blankinship, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Melissa Santos, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).


(c)2017 The Seattle Times

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