Intimidating vehicles swoop in from all directions, surrounding local restaurants. Individuals, many secured at the wrists, are marched outside and loaded into trucks to be hauled away.
A communications vehicle, equipped with the latest in digital gadgetry, remains parked outside one of the restaurants, which is closed and locked.
A command center is established at a nearby government building, and detainees are taken there to be questioned, some released and some taken away.
This happened right here in Happy Valley, on an otherwise normal Thursday — when federal agents raided seven Asian restaurants.
Bill Ebken watched several of the raids near his State College business and called the scene “disturbing.”
In the week since those restaurant raids, the prevailing reaction has been silence.
Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, at first offered this two-sentence statement by email to the Centre Daily Times:
“In order not to compromise this ongoing criminal investigation, no additional details are available at his time. Residents should not be alarmed of any public safety concerns.”
We suspect that comment did little to ease the minds of those feeling anxious about the police activity.
Five days later, she finally provided some explanation about the nature of the investigation in another email to the CDT. Navas said ICE agents went into the restaurants armed with federal search warrants and “detained 10 individuals from China, Guatemala, Thailand, Mexico and Indonesia, who were identified as being unlawfully in the United States and/or illegally re-entering the country after having been removed, a federal felony.”
Still no names, and no details about how these individuals were targeted or even where they were being housed. If this were an operation carried out by state or local police, we would expect such details quickly after the operation.
We certainly do not want to hinder an investigation into something as serious as immigration violations. But asking that the community have more information about these raids is not unreasonable.
There is no reason for this total secrecy from our federal officials. But what of local leaders and Centre County residents? What of the local Asian community?
Area law-enforcement officials have said they were “out of the loop” or directed queries to Homeland Security. Likewise, Centre Region officials said they could not comment.
Language and cultural barriers keep Asian immigrants, both students and others, somewhat isolated in the community.
We’ve heard very little from folks within that circle, and we’ve seen nothing that suggests non-Asian residents have reached out in concern.
At a time when we would expect connections to be made and support to be offered, the gap has instead widened.
Our distrust of government only grows when we see individuals, their wrists bound, hauled away with no explanation.
But what of our distrust of each other?
This as an opportunity for residents and, especially, local leaders to reach across the cultural divide to those whose family members or co-workers were taken away with so little explanation.