Federal immigration officers arrested and detained 14 undocumented construction workers staying at a Colchester hotel last week, the largest local raid "in recent memory," according to a spokesman for human rights organization Migrant Justice.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrived at the Days Inn on Route 15 — across the street from Saint Michael's College — around 5 a.m. last Thursday and and arrested the workers in the hotel breakfast room, said owner Darcy Church.* She described it as a "10 minutes, in-and-out" operation where most of the other guests never noticed anything was amiss.
"There was no commotion or anything," Church said.
Workers who were not detained then alerted Migrant Justice, said group spokesman Will Lambek. Many of the workers are being held at ICE's Strafford County House of Corrections in New Hampshire on immigration charges, though some may still be detained in Vermont, he added.
The workers had been hired by a construction firm and periodically stayed at the hotel when they came to the area for projects, Church said.
Neither Church nor any hotel staff tipped off federal immigration officers — “no one at the hotel knew this would happen or had anything to do with it,” she said.* This was the first time ICE agents had ever paid a visit to the hotel, according to Church.
Lambek declined to identify the workers and the construction firm that hired them, though he clarified that none were organizers with Migrant Justice. Lambek said the organization had contacted the offices of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
The arrests came before Friday night's federal government shut down. Among the sticking points in those negotiations is the fate of undocumented immigrants who had received legal status as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said he could not comment due to the government shutdown. Neudauer, who is based in Minnesota, said he was authorized to speak with press only about "Super Bowl security issues."
ICE officers — but not public affairs officers — are considered essential government personnel and are still working, Neudauer said.
*Correction, January 22, 2018: A previous version of this story misidentified the owner of the Days Inn.
*Darcy Church later clarified where the workers were arrested and reiterated that staff did not know of the raid ahead of time.