By Brentin Mock
St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens acknowledged today that his office requested federal immigration officials search for undocumented workers among those cleaning up BP’s oil spill. After a spokesperson for the sheriff’s department initially denied involvement*—and federal officials insisted they had conducted a “training,” not a raid—Stephens released a statement in response to ColorLines’ questions about who ordered the probe. The statement declared Stephens is concerned about “illegal aliens” and “criminals” coming into the area “under the guise of doing legitimate work.”
The journalism project Feet in Two Worlds and El Diario/La Prensa broke the story Friday, reporting that ICE had visited two oil spill command centers, rounded up workers and checked their documents. ICE has since insisted that the visits were at the request of local officials and that they were “trainings” rather than raids.
Here’s Stephens’ full statement:
St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack A. Stephens confirmed Tuesday, June 8, his department asked ICE officials weeks ago to look into reports of illegal aliens among those working in the oil spill clean-up effort as part of an overall effort to prevent criminals from entering under the guise of doing legitimate work.
“We’re not worried about people who want to earn an honest buck,’’ Sheriff Stephens said. “But from the beginning (of the oil spill) we have been concerned about criminal elements coming into this area with the intention of establishing criminal enterprises,’’ the sheriff said.
“We make a distinction between those working here and those who have crime in mind when they come here,’’ Stephens said. “That happened after Hurricane Katrina and we don’t want it to happen again. We’re concerned illegal aliens with criminal records represent a danger to our parish.’’
He said the Sheriff’s Office has set up checkpoints throughout the areas affected by the oil spill and has been working with law enforcement agencies from throughout he coastal Louisiana area on a credentialing system for employees of BP subcontractors being sent in for clean-up efforts.
“We have a good working relationship with ICE’’ and the Sheriff’s Office asked them weeks ago to check on reports of illegal aliens coming in as part of clean-up efforts because the agency has the resources to find out whether such people might have gang affiliations or have criminal records in other countries” Sheriff Stephens said.
We’ll have more on the story tomorrow.
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that Sheriff Stephens denied his office’s involvement “for days.” Stephens released his statement the same day ColorLines asked about the ICE visits.