Illegal Workers Arrested After Tip

Wednesday, April 23rd 2008, 6:38 pm
By: News On 6

An anonymous tip on Wednesday morning led to a bust in Mayes County.  Deputies arrested 10 undocumented construction workers. But the arrests are already stirring up controversy.

The News On 6's Jeffrey Smith reports deputies say it was one of the biggest illegal worker busts on record for them.  But Hispanic leaders say it sets a dangerous precedent and it all comes down to how you interpret a controversial phrase of a controversial law.

Oklahoma's tough new immigration law allows police to arrest immigrants if they can't show documentation. It's one of the toughest in the country.

"We actually questioned 13 people, we arrested 10 for being undocumented," said Mayes County Sheriff Frank Cantey.

An anonymous caller on Wednesday told Mayes County sheriff's about illegal workers in Salina at the new middle school.

"We've had one or two before, but this is the first time we've had a large number, as large a number as this," said Cantey.

The bill requires probable cause to search for documentation.  Sheriff Cantey says following through on a tip is good police work.

"We were told by some people out at the scene that if we were out yesterday we could have gotten as many as 30 or 40," said Cantey.

"The sheriffs probably get a lot of tips everyday about crimes, and civil issues, and I got a divorce, or my cat is hiding somewhere, and I can't find him. It's about prioritizing," said Sebastian Lantos of the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations.

Hispanic leaders are furious.  They say if you aren't breaking a law, then there's no probable cause. And he says the law is being applied unequally.

"Why didn't they arrest the owner of this construction company? Why are they just taking these 10 guys? Why didn't the sheriff take the owner of the company? He's just taking the 10 guys?" said Lantos.

"We have them fill out the I-9, we abide by the law, they furnished their proof of citizenship, and, they are documented according to us," said Marcia Davenport who is the owner of D&D Interiors.

The owner of the company where the illegal's worked says they have documents for every worker.

"We're not trained to sit there and look at the documents and tell if they're authentic or not, as far as we know they are. You know, we're just a small company, trying to get by," said Davenport.

The law, the employers and the workers are now at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to what 1804 should mean.

Sheriff Cantey says because of Wednesday's tip they'll be spending more resources on finding illegal workers.