Reports of raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in at least six U.S. states have people in eastern Washington on edge. But what started as a rally in support of immigrants and refugees Sunday afternoon, ended in a wild goose chase at Spokane’s bus station.
More than 1,500 people gathered for the rally. Some were immigrants, but the majority were there to show their support for Spokane’s refugee population. They filled a ballroom at Gonzaga University to capacity and still flooded the hallway and the stairwell outside.
A handful of speakers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia shared personal stories and sang. Local leaders tried to reassure immigrants who fear they might be targeted for deportation. But then City Council President Ben Stuckart announced he had just received a report that ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency - was raiding Spokane’s bus and train station.
“I was on my phone for the last half hour and that’s because ICE was just at the Intermodal center, which is owned by the city, doing checks of IDs on people,” Stuckart said.
Stuckart is gearing up for a run against long-time U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2018. A day after the rally, he sent a text message:
“In retrospect, I should have verified before I spoke,” he wrote.
‘I have seen no evidence of it’
But the information Stuckart shared at the rally was enough to convince civil rights activists and few curious onlookers to visit the station, where a bus from Seattle, destined for Missoula, arrived at 4 p.m.. No one on the bus said they’d had their ID checked by a federal agent.
Latisha Conto is the Development Director at Spokane’s Center for Justice. She said activists who reported seeing agents from ICE could have mistaken them for Customs and Border Protection officers. But, the mistake wasn’t corrected before reports spread across social media, creating what Conto described as potential hysteria.
“So, if you hear that ICE is doing raids in your town, you want to be really certain that that is true information because otherwise you are scaring people,” Conto said.
City Councilman and Attorney Breean Beggs also made a trip to the bus station, chasing the rumor of a raid in Washington’s second largest city.
“So, the worry is how big is that going to be and are they using city property to accomplish that goal,” Beggs said. “That’s why I came, to see if that was happening. I have seen no evidence of it.”
Customs checks in Spokane
At 5 p.m., another bus pulled in. It had come by way of Vancouver and then Seattle, before it stopped in Spokane. A Customs and Border Protection agent appeared, but left without asking for anyone’s ID.
Any bus that comes through Spokane, from Canada, has already stopped in Seattle, 280 miles west. So, it’s unclear why Customs and Border Protection would check buses and trains a second time.
In an email, a spokesperson said the agency carries out regular checks, because Spokane is the nearest major transportation hub, south of the Canadian border.
According to federal law, Immigration Officers can board any vehicle without a warrant “within a reasonable distance” of the U.S. border.
That distance is defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act as 100 air miles. Depending on where you are in Spokane, the Canadian border is between 92 and 107 miles north.
Local law enforcement only works in coordination with federal agencies by request. The Department of Homeland Security did not return calls or an email to confirm if ICE operations took place in Eastern Washington over the weekend.