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Twelve arrested in ICE raid at mushroom farm

05/03/2017 08:04AM ● Published by J. Chambless

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Twelve people were arrested at a Chester County mushroom farm on the morning of April 26 by officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They were promptly taken to a federal immigration detention center in York, Pa., where they remain.

The arrests, which occurred on the private property of a processing facility owned by South Mill Mushrooms on Starr Road, was the result of a visit by ICE officials, who told workers they were there to find and arrest four undocumented immigrants. None of the 12 workers were among those whom ICE was looking for, nor did any of them work at the facility.

In an interview with the Chester County Press, local immigration attorney Lindsey Sweet, of the firm Sweet & Paciorek, said that she has completed consultations with the families of three of those who were detained in the April 26 sweep. In addition, she said that a colleague from the Villanova Law School has visited the York County Prison and interviewed all 12 detainees who were arrested.

Sweet told the Chester County Press that none of the 12 arrested had any previous criminal records; however, she said, a few had immigration contacts for removal at a prior time. While each of the detained will be required to mount their own defenses, Sweet and Paciorek will represent two of the 12 detainees, and will file a motion to suppress any information that came out of these arrests.

Sweet said that from the accounts of several people who witnessed the incident, ICE agents entered the property through a door leading to one of the mushroom houses, without requesting permission to do so. After asking workers in the immediate vicinity if they knew the four workers being sought, ICE officials then requested that all other workers in the mushroom facility put aside their work. They were subsequently asked to provide their country of origin and, depending on their answers, either remained in the building -- having proven that they were either permanent residents of the United States or had work authorization documents -- or were escorted out of the building and placed in an ICE vehicle.

By the end of the raid, the arrests of two men were captured on video and posted online.

The Kennett Square arrest sweep is the latest in a string of high-profile immigration busts to occur in the the Northeast since the beginning of the year. In March, nearly 250 were arrested in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.

Michael Pia, the owner of the mushroom facility, told NBC-10 Philadelphia on April 28 that ICE did not make it clear whether they had a warrant to come onto the property. The Chester County Press offered the company the opportunity speak about the incident, but the company chose not to provide comment.

Sweet said that the arrests were illegally executed.

“Although warrants are not required for public spaces, private property is not a public property,” she said. “They [ICE] need to obtain permission from the property owners.”

Throughout its 44-year history, La Communidad in Kennett Square (LCH) has helped the local Hispanic community with legal matters through its legal defense fund. Alisa Jones, LCH president and CEO, said that the legal defense fund is serving two of the families who were impacted by last Wednesday's raids.

"Right now, our members are being impacted by advanced enforcement," she said. "Our fund has always been here, it is here now, and we're using that fund to help cover legal fees, such as expenses related to travel to and from the prison in York, emergency assistance for families who have a family member in detention, and social services, such as mental health assistance for families who are broken apart."

For those who wish to make a donation to LCH's legal defense fund, visit www.lacommunidadhispana.org, click the button in the shape of a heart, and designate your donation to the LCH Legal Defense Fund. All contributions will go directly to those who are being affected by current deportation efforts.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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