For nearly two months after federal agents and local police rounded up at least 30 undocumented immigrants, many people in Ellensburg remained unsure as to why, exactly, the law-enforcement storm descended on their otherwise tranquil town. An official statement issued by ICE on January 21, the day after the raid, stated that the arrests were related to "the manufacture and purchase of counterfeit identity and employment documents," but offered no further details. But an "agency assist" report from the Ellensburg police department offers some insight as to the nature of ICE's investigation, including the revelation that the suspected ringleader of a work document-forging ring was the pastor at a small Pentecostal church in town.
photo by Keegan Hamilton
According to family members and court documents from his arrest and subsequent deportation, Barrientos-Ariza turned his life around after he became evangelical during his stay in the Yakima County Jail "God Pod," essentially a theological seminary behind bars. He eventually returned to Ellensburg after being deported and established a church, Iglesia Pentecostés Monte Sinai. He held services three nights a week, preaching in Spanish to about 45 parishioners.
However, according to information given to Ellensburg police by ICE and Homeland Security Agents, Barrientos-Ariza and his wife led double lives as forgers. The wife, Maria Morales-Fierro, worked as a housekeeper at a local hotel. At least 10 people charged with document fraud in connection with ICE's investigation also worked on local hotel cleaning staffs.
As reported in this week's feature story, "The ICE Storm," Barrientos-Ariza's criminal record and his suspected role in the forging operation being investigated by ICE led the Ellensburg police to believe that arresting Barrietos-Ariza and his wife at their small trailer would be a "high risk" operation. Here's how that is described in the story:
Around 6:40 a.m., the cops and agents descended on Barrientos-Ariza's trailer park, a hodgepodge of about 30 ramshackle single-wides clustered haphazardly on unpaved streets on the town's western edge. They carried a picture of Barrientos-Ariza's house to ensure that they knocked on the right door. A police helicopter hovered overhead, its search beam shining in the early-morning twilight.
Andrew Houck, a bilingual officer on the Ellensburg police force, was first up the steps to the Barrientos-Ariza residence. Houck wrote later in a report that he kicked the front door "to announce our presence." The door "flew open" and Houck shouted, "Police! Search warrant! Come to the door!"
Barrientos-Ariza was standing in the kitchen, clad in nothing but his underwear. Houck ordered him in Spanish to put his hands up, then pinned him against the wall. Once handcuffed, Houck ordered Barrientos-Ariza to lie on the floor.
The other officers roused Morales-Fierro from bed and handcuffed her, along with the couple's 19-year-old nephew. Their two children, ages 11 and 14, were in another bedroom when the police burst in with their guns drawn "at the low ready," according to the police report. They considered handcuffing the kids but decided against it, ordering them instead to sit on the living-room couch, but not before searching it for weapons and evidence.
The cops scoured the residence for nearly four hours, going so far as to check cereal boxes for contraband. In the end, according to Ellensburg Police's "agency assist" report, they found the couple's bank statements, driver's licenses, pay stubs, and Mexican birth certificates. They also found Social Security cards and "pictures of a male which had been cut to what appeared to be placed within an identification card."
But of the 16 Ellensburg immigrants who have been indicted in federal court, Barrientos-Ariza is the only one not charged with possession of unlawful immigration documents. He is accused only of illegal re-entry into the United States.
So why has Barrientos-Ariza not been charged with manufacturing counterfeit work and immigration documents? Did ICE target the wrong man? Was the real suspect somebody else who was living at the Barrientos-Ariza home?
Our feature doesn't have all the answers, but we take a stab at answering those important questions and a few others. Read the whole thing: The War on Mexicans Strikes Ellensburg -- One of the largest immigration raids in state history rocks Rodeo City. Meanwhile, here's a copy the Ellensburg Police Report cited in the story:
Meanwhile, here's a copy the Ellensburg Police Report cited in the story: