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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Friends and family members of those arrested at a warehouse Thursday gather at St. Francis Catholic Church in Orem to meet with lawyers and aid groups.

Thursday night at the St. Francis Catholic Church in Orem, Reina Isabel-Alvarado wiped tears from her cheeks and rubbed her hand roughly over her eyes.

Her husband had been arrested earlier in the day, one of more than 50 people taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in a raid at a Lindon manufacturing plant.

"I don't know what is going to happen to my husband. I don't know what is going to happen to our family," Isabel-Alvarado said in Spanish. "Our lives are in their (ICE's) hands."

The federal raid targeted Universal Industrial Sales Inc., which manufactures a variety of highway products, such as guard rails, bridge rails and sign structures.

Employee Jose Luis Uribe, 21, who is in the U.S. legally, said federal officials separated workers into two groups: employees who had papers and those who were illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants, tagged at the wrist with red or yellow bands, cried as they handed their car keys and cell phones to their co-workers, asking them to tell their families not to worry. Some pleaded "for help from (those) with papers," Uribe said.

"They put a red band on the people from Mexico and a yellow band on those from South and Central America," Uribe said. "They (ICE officials) entered running. We thought there was a fire or something."

The human resources manager at Universal Industrial Sales pleaded not guilty later Thursday in federal court to charges of harboring illegal immigrants.

Alejandro Alex Urrutia-Garcia, 39, of Provo, faces two counts of encouraging illegal immigrants to remain in the United States unlawfully. Each charge carries up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 fines, if convicted.

The indictment was one of two unsealed in U.S. District Court on the heels of the raid.

UIS is charged with 10 counts of harboring immigrants between January 2003 to December 2006 for "commercial advantage" and faces $500,000 in fines, or twice the amount of any pecuniary gains, for each count.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah, Urrutia-Garcia is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was released from prison Thursday, pending a hearing Tuesday. A four-day trial was scheduled to start April 14.

Telephone messages left at Universal were not returned. The Lindon-based company employs more than 100 individuals, according to its Web site.

Family and friends, stunned by the raid, gathered Thursday night at St. Francis to learn what could be done for their loved ones.

Isabel-Alvarado repeated over and over that she was unsure of what would happen to her husband and her two children, ages 15 and 16.

Isabel-Alvarado did speak to her husband two hours after the raid during the one phone call each person was given to call home. He told her "he was very worried for (the family.) He didn't know what was going to happen and said to take care of the kids."

Isabel-Alvarado and her husband came to the United States from Honduras 10 years ago looking for opportunity. "If there were all the opportunity (in Honduras) that we came to look for here, we would be there," she said.

Heriberto Uribe's stepfather, who was arrested in the raid, came to the United States because he "basically liked the better future." Heriberto Uribe, 25, said his stepfather is the only provider for his mother, a U.S. citizen for the past 10 years.

"It's just sad for my mom because she is unemployed," Heriberto Uribe said. "He brings in about 70 percent of the income. Who's going to pay the mortgage?"

Many families of the employees arrested were left with young children and without an income. During the post-raid meeting, representatives for the Department of Human Services, the Division of Child and Family Services and Workforce Services met with families to evaluate if they qualified for public help.

Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, conducted the meeting and assured the families that those offering assistance were there "to help and not to report (them)."

U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said the investigation that led to the raid and indictments utilized confidential informants and undercover agent, and is ongoing.

Tolman said the charges stem from his office's effort to target employers who are "willfully blind" to their workers' immigration statuses, "especially to gain some economic advantage on their competitors."

"Today's action should send a clear message to employers in Utah," Tolman said. "We expect employers to comply with immigration laws in hiring employees. Failure to comply with these laws hampers our ability to address illegal immigration issues."

Tolman said his office understands that those taken into custody may have families. He said they will show compassion for those involved.

After the raid Thursday morning, family members and friends of the arrested employees trickled in to the plant at 435 N. 1200 West in Lindon, hoping for details about what happened.

Elias Villalpando, 27, worked for UIS for five years but quit three years ago.

Standing in the snow Thursday after the raid, he described employees as good, hard-working people just trying to make a living.

Villalpando said he's especially worried about his brother-in-law, who doesn't have so much as a traffic ticket on his record and is raising a 12-year-old daughter alone. He said he thinks they might just both go back to Mexico.

"Nobody has the right to deny someone the right to bring food to their families," Villalpando said.

The plant has been popular with many Mexican workers because the foreman is from Jalisco, the home state of many of the affected workers. He said the workers came because they knew they could get jobs.

"Nobody (else) wants to do that kind of job," Villalpando said, referring to the conditions inside the warehouse. "White people don't want to do that kind of job."

Yapias did numerous interviews outside the company's headquarters, including a phone interview with a Spanish-language radio station.

"We ask for calm in our community," he said in Spanish. "It's important that there is not panic in our community."

"Right now, they're all scared," he said after the interview. On his drive to Lindon from Salt Lake City, Yapias said, he received nearly 50 phone calls from worried family members.

The workers detained Thursday were being interviewed, photographed, fingerprinted and processed by ICE agents, said agency spokesman Greg Palmore. There are no federal arrest warrants or criminal charges associated with the workers at this time. They were to be held at the Weber and Utah county jails.

"It's a long methodical process we go through," Palmore said.

The worksite enforcement effort involved 100 immigration agents, in cooperation with state and local police, he said. ICE is also coordinating with agencies, such as the Utah Health and Human Rights Project and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.


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