Thursday, 4:30 PM
Raid nets crime suspects, illegal immigrants
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
Thirty immigration agents landed on Nantucket on a Coast Guard ship early Wednesday, met local police, and raided several houses.
By mid-morning, they had arrested 16 immigrants for assault, theft, credit card fraud, drug dealing, and other felonies. Two others were detained for being in the country illegally. All were handcuffed, fitted with orange life preservers, and taken off the island. All face court hearings that could lead to deportation.
The raid, the first such immigration sweep on Nantucket, laid bare the problems facing a growing community, largely hidden from tourists in quaint bed and breakfasts and summer residents in multimillion dollar seaside homes.
According to town officials, 3,000 people -- one third of Nantucketís year-round residents -- are legal and illegal immigrants, mostly from El Salvador and Brazil but also from Europe and the Caribbean. Those arrested Wednesday came from Jamaica, Brazil, El Salvador, England, Lithuania, Ireland, and Cuba.
The immigrants, who sustain Nantucketís tourism, have already begun transforming the islandís social and political life. Selectmen now greet voters in Spanish and human services officials pay visits to Masses in Spanish. And in this case, police said they, too, worked closely with immigrants.
"What I heard from the immigrant community, legal and illegal, is they want to be here because thereís a need for work but they donít want to be here in the midst of criminals, just like I donít want to be," said Chief William Pittman. "They want to be safe in America and they have just as much right to that as I do."
Nevertheless, the raid sent fear coursing through the immigrant community, said Camila Monteiro, program director at Community Action Committee of Cape Cod & Islands. She said she had received eight calls Wednesday from relatives of Brazilians arrested in the raid, and several told her their relatives had never committed crimes.
"The families are just frustrated," Monteiro said. "The employees didnít go to work for fear of being picked up, and they are all scared to leave their houses. Theyíre moving in with relatives who have green cards so immigration wouldnít look for them, and they donít even know whatís going on with family members who were taken."
Yvonne Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com.