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story.lead_photo.caption Club Trois, 4314 Asher Ave.

Federal immigration authorities arrested at least 12 people for being in the country illegally early Saturday during a state-led, alcohol-related investigation of a Little Rock nightclub, officials said.

Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control, which conducted a compliance check at Club Trois based on tips, requested assistance from Homeland Security Investigations because of the nature of some of the complaints, state agency spokesman Scott Hardin said.

Ten of the people arrested had no serious criminal history, according to an attorney who spoke Monday with a top official at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Little Rock. The other two had prior violations, said the attorney, Juan Carlos Hernandez, who is not representing anyone involved.

Early reports sparked fear that immigration enforcement agents independently raided the nightclub, highlighting sensitivities about tighter enforcement policies under President Donald Trump's administration. Arkansas, generally, has been spared the random, wide-ranging crackdowns at workplaces or community hangouts seen in other states, Hernandez said.

But important details of the Club Trois arrests remained unclear, such as why federal agents were asked to help state investigators, how many people were initially detained and whether everyone in attendance was asked to prove their residency status.

Questions linger about whether the operation was essentially a "broad sweep" of a Hispanic club, an advocate for migrants said.

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selectedimmigration statistics, U.S. border map]

Hernandez and a public affairs officer at the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock stressed that the operation did not seem to be an "arbitrary operation."

"I think that's important [to understand] so the people won't panic," said Hernandez, an attorney at Hernandez Law Firm. "People in general are just getting really anxious and really nervous. Some of them are getting into, like, a panic mode."

Asking immigration agents for help on an alcohol investigation is rare, Hardin said. Homeland Security Investigations is a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- which is often called by its acronym, ICE -- and is separate from the day-to-day enforcement division.

"Without getting too specific, some of the complaints we were receiving, we knew we could potentially have a situation in which Homeland Security was needed," Hardin said. "It was in preparation for what we heard."

Hardin declined to elaborate, other than saying that the allegation was "outside our jurisdiction" and that he didn't believe Homeland Security was investigating Club Trois before the tip.

Agency staff members are writing a violation for serving alcohol to a minor, Hardin said. Additionally, one of the patrons was ticketed with possession of marijuana, he said.

Bryan Cox, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, confirmed 12 arrests. He declined to provide specific criminal backgrounds of the people who were detained, citing privacy rules.

"I can tell you there is an ongoing federal investigation," Cox said. "There have been no criminal charges filed at this point. I'm not able to discuss the specific circumstances about any federal investigation."

The Homeland Security Investigations division probes an array of potential crimes, ranging from immigration document fraud to financial crimes to human-rights violations.

"Although [the division] is not immigration enforcement, being part of ICE, they're not going to turn a blind eye to that," Cox said.

Residing in the United States without lawful status is, by itself, a civil offense of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. Violators face deportation but not criminal charges, unless they have committed a crime. It is not a crime, for example, to overstay a visa.

Sarah Medrano, a public affairs officer at the Mexican Consulate in Little Rock, said 10 of the 12 people who have been detained are Mexican nationals and are being temporarily held at the Lonoke city jail. She was not sure of their criminal histories. The other two people detained are from Honduras and Guatemala, Medrano said.

All 12 will be transferred to an immigration facility in Jena, La., Medrano said.

"When we spoke to ICE authorities, they only told us that they had this investigation on this particular establishment, but it wasn't an arbitrary operation for immigration or [support for] a rumor that was going on that this was going to happen in other places," Medrano said.

As many as 30 people were initially detained early Saturday morning, but most were released at the club "because [agents] did not have any reason to detain them," Medrano said.

Boyce Hamlet, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Controls Enforcement Division, said in a printed statement that no family lost its breadwinner.

"ABC has several controls in place, both at the state and federal level to ensure no primary caregiver was removed from their family or that any minor children were placed in danger," Hamlet said. "The individuals ICE detained to evaluate their citizenship either had active warrants for their arrest or multiple incidents of being removed from the United States."

Hernandez was unsure of the specific backgrounds of the 12 people arrested, but he said that 10 didn't have a serious criminal history, meaning nothing higher than a Class C misdemeanor, according to his conversation with the sub-director of the Little Rock immigration enforcement office. Public intoxication is one example of such a crime.

The nightclub, with a facade reading Trois Club Latino, was cited in June for disorderly conduct on site, allowing alcohol consumption after legally prescribed hours and operating under an unauthorized trade name, according to documents Hardin provided.

Tracy Johnson, listed as the permit holder, contested the violations, Hardin said. A hearing is scheduled for Alcoholic Beverage Control's Aug. 15 board meeting.

Johnson had not returned a message as of Monday evening.

Mireya Reith, executive director of the immigrants rights advocacy group Arkansas United Community Coalition, said the club's manager and his wife, who are Hispanic, were among those detained Saturday morning.

Arkansas United received witness reports stating the club's exits were barricaded and everyone was forced to prove legal residency, she said, calling it a "broad sweep."

"Even if it wasn't what would be qualified as a raid, the broad sweep is essentially equivalent to a raid," Reith said, adding that the operation approaches the "realm of people being targeted because of their race."

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he was unaware of the investigation. As the city tries to "build trust with all of our residents," it would have been nice to be notified, he said. A key question, the mayor said, is what prompted alcohol regulators to seek help from Homeland Security.

"It seems to me the root of the issue is probably at that juncture, on why the state agency decided they needed to call in [Homeland Security] Investigations," Stodola said. "While this may be a legitimate operation, the lack of information to the community has caused great concern to everyone and certainly the Little Rock family."

Metro on 07/24/2018

Print Headline: Immigration agents arrest dozen people at Little Rock club


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  • Nodmcm
    July 24, 2018 at 7:49 a.m.

    Virtually all of the undocumented immigrants have jobs, for which they had to produce an American social security card to get their job (remember doing that?). Because they are in the country illegally/without visa, they cannot legally get a social security card. So they buy stolen social security cards. Just possessing one knowing it is phony is a felony. Using one to prove identification is another felony, say to get an Arkansas drivers' license, or when applying for a job. So most illegal/undocumented immigrants are felons, on account of the fraudulent documents they must have to survive and work for money to live. Sure, a few of them have cash-only jobs, like construction or landscaping, so they may not have phony IDs. This is why there were arrests.

  • railtoler
    July 24, 2018 at 8:57 a.m.

    Looks pretty fishy to me.
    There exists multiple clubs in Central Arkansas ( no immigrants ) which has on the fare anything illegal one can order.
    Whores, drugs, take out liquors, gambling, etc. All the violations link to organized crime.

    So, question is why this “ Nazi” like panic spreading is occurring in Arkansas. Many cities and states are remaining “ Safe Zones”
    For humane reasons. ( most of immigrants are not criminals )!!!!

    These multiple non immigrant clubs are NOT in SW LR. Non Hispanic folks are living the life via payoffs to anyone that scrutinize their clubs. So, this raid on a club is a horrible panic inducing action that is not what our humane level in Arkansas is about.

    If this is going to be the norm , secrecy , then
    We need NEW State leadership November 2018.
    Either raid the coke and coke and Whores clubs of locals or leave these families alone.

    The immigrant community members are trying to become legitimate members of society. They are being driven further underground.

    Put yourself in your shoes. The parents are guilty only of trying to make a better life for their families.

    Monroe Toler

  • WhododueDiligence
    July 24, 2018 at 9:34 a.m.

    Nodmcm, the IRS uses numbers other than SS numbers to collect taxes. Many undocumented workers have Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN). Even if they use fake SS numbers, they pay into the federal payroll tax system. Collectively they pay a significant amount of money into Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, and they're not eligible for benefits from those programs. Of course they also pay a considerable amount of money in state and local sales taxes. Also, I don't believe it's correct to call anyone, whether a worker or the person who hires them, a felon unless they've been convicted of a felony.
    If Congress would do its job for once and pass sensible immigration reform, we could resolve these problems.

  • smmlv3
    July 24, 2018 at 9:53 a.m.

    Stodola is letting his political views override his duty to the city. He has made statements that could fuel fear and outrage among illegal immigrants when he, admittedly, does not know the facts. His retirement is long overdue.

  • WeirdThoughtsFromRabidDogs
    July 24, 2018 at 10:43 a.m.

    Follow the process to come here legally, and obey our laws. If you can't do that, then don't come here.

  • RBBrittain
    July 24, 2018 at 10:44 a.m.

    @smmlv3: You don't know what you're talking about; Stodola doesn't even run ABC Enforcement (state agency), much less HSI/ICE (Federal agency). The mayor of Little Rock can't do anything about those two agencies beyond the bully pulpit of his title; whoever replaces Stodola will have the same problem.

  • LR1955
    July 24, 2018 at 11:52 a.m.

    La cucaracha, la cucaracha
    Ya no puede caminar.
    Porque no tiene, porque le falta,
    Dinero para gastar.

  • AmpieMolina
    July 24, 2018 at 12:49 p.m.

    I will vote this election for candidates who prioritize citizens over illegal aliens, those who oppose sanctuary cities, amnesty and taxpayer funded in state college tuition discounts for illegals. That means NO Democrats.

    When will politicians and people in general figure out that when you reward illegal immigration with jobs, amnesty, drivers licenses, discounts for college tuition, scholarships encourages MORE illegal entry.. Illegal immigration negativity effects our economy from employment to use public services. Just debating this in congress is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars..... thank the parents.

    People fleeing persecution? or people fleeing for freebies? they sure don't stay in Mexico when they reach "safety" or ask for political asylum in Mexico. Why? because Mexico will give them nothing. So they make the long journey to our border, our giving liberals and our tax dollars. The current migration at our southern border is costing taxpayers a Kings Ransom. Not mentioned is 70% of children at the border arrive either alone or with a non parent.

    Just a few examples of the more outrageous costs associated with illegal immigration, we will pass this burden on to our children and grand children as has been passed on to us

    The cost of educating illegal aliens children is staggering. From K-12 it costs taxpayers $122,000 for EACH illegal alien student. This does not include the billions spent on bilingual education for illegal aliens.

    *Currently city, and state officials are appropriating millions of taxpayer dollarsfor legal fees to to file law suits and in defense of illegal aliens being deported and to sue our own Government..

    *2012 illegal aliens sent home $62 BILLION in remittances back to their countries of origin. This is why Mexico is getting involved in our politics.

    *30% percent of all Federal Prison inmates are illegal aliens. Does not include local jails and State Prisons. At $33,274 per year expense per inmate in Federal Prison U do the math. ( The Vera Institute )

    *$3Million Dollars a DAY is spent to incarcerate illegal aliens, I repeat 3 MILLION a DAY to process Illegals in the Criminal justice system.

    *$2.2Billion dollars a year is spent on is spent on food assistance programs such as SNAP (food stamps) WIC, & free school lunches.

    * Taxpayer funded in state tuition college discounts for illegal aliens cost taxpayers over a billion dollars annually.

  • LRCrookAtty
    July 24, 2018 at 2:59 p.m.

    Ampie...Don't state hard dollar facts on here. Every liberal on here will say they are willing to give their (I actually mean they are willing to mine, but they feel that what is mine is theirs) dollars for such a great cause.

  • JiminyC56
    July 24, 2018 at 3:16 p.m.

    Good work ICE!