Traffic operation leads to roundup of suspected illegal immigrants

Story by Katrina Webber

ARCADIA, LA (KSLA) - A crackdown on unlicensed and uninsured drivers in Bienville Parish had some surprising results for law enforcement officers Monday.

The operation was conducted along Highway 80 in Arcadia by Louisiana State Troopers at the request of Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance. 

"We've been having some problems in that area with drivers who were unlicensed and uninsured.  We even had a fatality," he said.  "So we called them and they came over today."

Ballance said during the crackdown-- at some time between 6 a. m. and 8 a. m.-- troopers came across 9 drivers in the area directly in front of the House of Raeford chicken processing plant who were missing more than their driving paperwork.  He said they're believed to be undocumented immigrants.

"It appears that of the 9 that they did write the violations to, none of those individuals had the proper paperwork to be in the United States."

Ballance said troopers contacted agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the 9 suspects were brought to the Bienville Parish jail.  The arrests apparently led to confusion at the plant.

"When this detail was going on," Ballance said, "we got a call at the sheriff's office from another business that said that it appeared that several (people) were running from the chicken plant."

KSLA News 12 later found some of the suspects arrested in the crackdown wearing leg shackles and sitting in an outdoor holding area at the jail.

"They tell me we're illegal and they treat us like animals," complained Omar Lopez Cruz, who says he came to the United States from Mexico.

Lopez Cruz was shackled to Andres Sanchez, who told KSLA News 12 the group had done nothing so wrong that required them to be jailed.

Both men, however, said they work at House of Raeford and obtained the jobs by using phony documents.

KSLA News 12 contacted the plant's general manager by telephone in South Carolina and he said he was aware of the traffic crackdown and some ensuing confusion.  However, he said he did not know of any employees being arrested or leaving the plant after the arrests.

He also refused to discuss whether the men who were arrested work at the plant.

In the meantime, their ability to remain in the United States remains under investigation.

"That's something that ICE is gonna have to figure out," said Ballance.