Fear of raids and arrests caused McDonald's restaurants around Carson City to close or cut back operations Thursday and Friday following the arrests of 54 accused illegal immigrants at 11 fast-food restaurants and a franchise headquarters in Reno and Fernley, according to the popular fast food chain and critics of the raids.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the arrests on Thursday were part of a five-month investigation that was initiated by reports of identity theft.
Richard Rocha, a representative with the agency, said the workers were in the country illegally so they should be arrested.
On Thursday, McDonald's restaurants on North Carson Street and Winnie Lane and at the Carson City and Topsy Lane Wal-Mart stores were closed. The restaurants fully reopened Friday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the North Carson Street and Winnie Lane restaurants had drive-thru service available.
Richard Ellis, a representative with the McDonald's corporation, said the restaurants closed because there were rumors the stores would be raided.
Those rumors spread, said Elvira Diaz, owner of Sierra Bakery, and scared Hispanic businesses and workers throughout the city.
"Everybody's so worried," she said. "It's crazy."
Diaz said she understands that people shouldn't be allowed to break the law, but is concerned for the families of the people arrested.
She and others are going to pray about how to help the situation, she said.
Of the 54 people arrested, 30 were temporarily released while they went through the process of being deported, according to Rocha. He said people who qualify for temporary release include those who are sole caregivers and those who have medical problems.
But Angie Hernandez, who said her 16-year-old daughter works at the Topsy Lane McDonald's, said the raids unnecessarily scared people and weren't fair.
"A lot of people are just here to work," she said.
The raids have caused legal and illegal Hispanic workers to panic, but the arrests were clearly legal, said Steve Sepulveda, publisher of the English-Spanish Northern Nevada newspaper Ahora.
He said the raids were a "hard call" but "the law's the law."
Other supporters of the raids said the government has to make arrests if businesses choose to hire illegal immigrants.
If businesses hire undocumented workers and the government doesn't make arrests, "it's like dangling a carrot," said Chelene Nightingale, a representative for Save Our State, a California-based organization teaching people about "the disastrous effects of illegal immigration and creating positive change through aggressive activism."
She said illegal immigrants should be deported immediately, adding "How else can we clean up the illegal invasion crisis?"
But Lee Rowland, a Northern Nevada representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the "illogical and unproductive" raids unnecessarily frighten minorities and cause other problems such as breaking up families, threatening people's rights and hurting hard-working people.
As for area McDonald's restaurants now, Ellis said, "it's business as usual."
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.
Questions about friends or family arrested in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids?
Call their "friends and family" line at 1-866-341-3858.
Reid calls for reform, Heller backs enforcement following raids
By Geoff Dornan
Appeal Capitol Bureau
Reacting to raids on 11 fast food outlets Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican, both repeated their positions that the nation's immigration laws must be enforced.
But they differed significantly on what to do about the continuing problem of undocumented workers in the U.S., with Heller backing enforcement and Reid calling for reform.
"My position on this is these laws need to be enforced," said Heller while acknowledging
Hispanic groups and others have raised concerns about the impact such tactics have on the Hispanic community and the public in general.
"I don't think we need new laws," Heller said. "Just enforce the laws we have. Coming down hard is what they should have been doing for the last five or 10 years."
Reid said the U.S. needs to "enforce the law and protect our borders."
But, he said, it points up the need to reform the system.
"Our current immigration system is broken and, until we fix it, this situation will not end," he said. "Without comprehensive immigration reform, employers will continue to hire undocumented workers and millions of people will live in the shadows of our society. Raids alone cannot solve this highly complex problem."
Nevada's Republican Senator John Ensign was in the air flying from Washington, D.C., to Nevada and could not be reached for comment.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents descended on 11 McDonald's franchises in Reno, Sparks and Fernley simultaneously at 10 a.m. Thursday as well as the corporate offices of Luther Mack, who owns the franchises. A total of 54 were taken into custody and ICE agents were reportedly still sorting which are legal immigrants and which are undocumented.
Mack has denied knowingly hiring any illegals.
Heller said the case, as he understands it, originated during an investigation of alleged identity theft. He was unable to provide any further details.
Reid said in a statement both parties recognize the need to reform the U.S. immigration system "and we will continue to work toward that end."
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.