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Sheriff Jones: ‘I’ve encouraged them to do the raids’ in Butler County

Fairfield business owner who employs migrant workers says “it’s not an HR nightmare.”

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones wants to see the federal government raid businesses in Butler County just as immigration officers arrested more than 100 workers at a northern Ohio gardening and greenhouse company on Tuesday.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones (Jim Otte/Staff)

Some 200 federal officers carried out one of the largest workplace immigration raids in recent years when they made 114 arrests at two Corso’s Flower & Garden Center locations. It was part of the Trump Administration’s growing crackdown on companies that hire people in the country illegally. This is on top of Trump’s push to increase deportations, target sanctuary cities and build a southern border wall.

INITIAL REPORT: 114 arrested in Ohio immigration sting; one of biggest in years

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said charges those arrested could face include identity theft and tax evasion. No criminal charges were filed against the company, but Corso’s is under investigation, federal officials told the Associated Press.

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“I’ve encouraged them to do the raids,” said Jones of the federal government. “I’ve sent them a letter, and I’ve talked to them personally that we have workplaces here in this county, manufacturers, that I feel and I have been told by informants that they’re hiring illegals — and a large amount of them.”

Jones refused to say which employers are hiring undocumented immigrants, but claimed there are about 10 to 12 in Butler County.

A government agent takes a suspect into custody during an immigration sting at Corso’s Flower and Garden Center, Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Castalia, Ohio. The operation is one of the largest against employers in recent years on allegations of violating immigration laws. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Staff Writer)

But he doesn’t want to see the undocumented immigrants here illegally arrested. He wants the employers arrested, not just fined, he said.

“There’s not a week goes by that somebody gives me information and tell me that they feel that there are people here working illegally,” he said. “I suspect one day we will wake up and there’ll be some raids here in this county. I hope.”

READ JONES’ LETTER: Letter to President Trump says send federal agents to Butler County (March 2017)

More than 12.5 million of those in the United States are undocumented immigrants, and according to a 2015 report by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research and Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America, Ohio had the worst record in the country on welcoming immigrants. But since then, officials from two of the state’s largest cities — Cincinnati and Dayton— have vowed to become immigrant-friendly cities.

The last major raid in Butler County happened 11 years ago when hundreds of U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents descended on Koch Foods, a producer of chicken for export, food service and retail markets, in Fairfield. The August 2007 raid was the result of a two-year ICE investigation and saw 180 Koch employees questioned and more than 160 were arrested for immigration violations.

Koch Foods was fined more than $500,000 after the raid, according to the Associated Press.

Tuesday’s raid was the result of a seven-month investigation after the U.S. Border Patrol arrested a woman who gave stolen identity documents, the Associated Press reported. That led federal investigators to Corso’s where they examined documents. Some Social Security numbers belonged to dead people, according to the Associated Press.

Government agents take a suspect into custody during an immigration sting at Corso’s Flower and Garden Center, Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Castalia, Ohio. The operation is one of the largest against employers in recent years on allegations of violating immigration laws. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Staff Writer)

Chad Oberson, owner of Oberson’s Nursery and Landscape in Fairfield, said it’s not difficult to hire documented migrant workers. He said they either have the documents or they do not.

Oberson, who is serving his second term on Fairfield City Council, employs more than 30 people, and about half are migrant workers in the country legally. Oberson said that’s verified by the H2B visas they are required to have. Employers can also use the federal website e-verify.gov.

“It’s not an HR nightmare,” he said. “You know you have all the paperwork. You know you’re good.”

Leo D’Cruz, a political activist in Cincinnati, called Tuesday’s raid “a sad situation and an example of the current conditions under which many people, including immigrants, find themselves within the confines of a Trump presidency.”

RELATED: Immigration fight, tension on tariffs await Congress’ return

But he said the solution to the United States’ undocumented immigration problem isn’t conducting more raids. It’s fixing the structural imbalance of an inadequate number of visas supplied to the migrant workforce.

“It’s a structural problem that we’ve been facing down really since the ’90s,” said D’Cruz, a former League of United Latin American Citizens of Cincinnati vice president. “We haven’t had an update to that (immigration) code since then. Effectively, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to govern our borders. So that has left the executive branch to handle that, depending on who’s in office.”

He said that leaves “a huge gap in responsibility” with inaction by Congress and thus “left to political whimsy.”

D’Cruz also said it leaves county sheriffs wanting to enforce federal immigration laws.

“It’s not a local issue,” he said. “Sheriff Jones is a county official, and for a county official to be wasting taxpayer dollars on things that are outside his jurisdiction is quite frankly irresponsible. I think it demonstrates a lack of prudence for what his job description outlines.”

Jones points out, though, he’s sworn to uphold the laws of the county, the state and the U.S. Constitution.

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