Two popular Stillwater restaurants were raided Wednesday morning and some of their workers were at least temporarily taken into custody by federal authorities.
Most would be released the same day, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church pastor Fr. Brian O’Brien learned when he went to the Stillwater Municipal Jail where they were being questioned.
O’Brien had spent hours trying to locate the people taken into custody, because many are members of his congregation. He was told that people who had warrants or who had already been deported would continue to be detained.
On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director of Communications Carl Rusnok confirmed for reporter Eva Morales of Telemundo Oklahoma that three people had been administratively arrested for immigration violations.
O’Brien said he still doesn’t have the names of the people who are still in custody.
Local law enforcement told the News Press that the case focused on a combination of immigration and criminal issues and hadn’t involved local agencies.
Federal authorities issued a statement saying that special agents with Homeland Security Investigations had executed multiple federal search warrants. Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Williams said he couldn’t release any other details, including the nature of the investigation.
Since the raids, rumors and speculation have flowed through town and across social media accounts and the reluctance federal authorities have shown toward discussing the matter has allowed them to flourish.
Stillwater’s hispanic community is dealing with fear and uncertainty in the wake of a set of actions unprecedented in Stillwater.
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church held a community meeting Thursday night to provide members of the hispanic community with the comfort people feel when they come together and arm them with information.
People who hadn’t seen each other since the news broke on Wednesday greeted each other with tears and hugs. A few dabbed at tears throughout the presentations.
Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce was present, as were State Representatives Trish Ranson and John Talley and a handful of other Stillwater residents.
Robert Mezzerli of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma provided information from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network on the rights a person has when interacting with law enforcement. Rodrigo Morales Salazar from the Mexican Consulate Department of Protection and Legal Affairs in Little Rock met privately with people who are citizens of Mexico to address their concerns.
Calling our immigration system “broken”, O’Brien asked people to think about the humanity of those caught up in situations that for them are simply ideological or political arguments.
“A lot of people take a real hard line on immigration until they know somebody who is affected by it,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s easy to take a hard line and say ‘that’s the law’ or ‘send them back’ or a lot of the political rhetoric that we hear. It’s much different when that person lives next door to you.
“There are more Spanish speakers in Payne County than people think. There’s a lot and they’re kind of largely, just under the surface. They’re in the service industries so maybe people are used to them being around but in a service capacity. But if you go to OSU, if you look around this Catholic community, they are in many ways, the lifeblood of the community ... So my hope is that it opens people’s eyes to the presence of this wonderful culture and that they bring a lot to the community. It doesn’t have to be as adversarial as a lot of people make it.”