Ten Brazilian immigrants, said to be in violation of deportation orders, left the Island yesterday morning in handcuffs - hauled away by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents aboard a United States Coast Guard vessel.
The raid sent shock waves through the Brazilian community, forcing many Island businesses to close as their foreign workers feared leaving the safety of their homes.
But the dozen immigration officials from Boston searched specifically for 18 immigrants, names from a list compiled by the Dukes County Sheriff's Department after two weeks of surveillance work.
"This was not a sweep. We went with the particular intention of locating particular individuals. We're not doing random raids, but it's important for those without proper status in the United States to realize that we are actively working to rid those people from the United States," said Paula Grenier, spokesman for the Boston office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, formerly called the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Immigrants targeted yesterday allegedly violated federal immigration court orders to leave the United States or secure appropriate visas. Federal warrants had been issued for the arrests of nine of the 10 Brazilians apprehended yesterday.
The raid came in the early hours of the morning. The 87-foot Coast Guard cutter arrived in the Oak Bluffs harbor late Wednesday night, said Oak Bluffs harbor master Todd Alexander. It sailed before 11 a.m. yesterday.
"The approach was to get them at home before they got to work, or we'd never find them," said Edgartown police Sgt. Ken Johnson, who accompanied a team of immigration officials to several homes in Edgartown beginning at 4 a.m.
The immigration teams requested help from the three down-Island police departments, the state police and the sheriff's department. One by one, each of the apprehended immigrants arrived in police cars and were escorted to the Coast Guard vessel docked near the town bulkhead in Oak Bluffs harbor.
"It was really a quiet scene. Coast Guard officers patted them down again, put lifejackets around their necks and escorted them onto the boat. They were then offered a bottle of water," said Mr. Alexander, who watched the activity from his office nearby.
The visit from immigration officials took the Brazilian community by surprise.
"We were in and out so quick. When we were doing it, the word wasn't out," Sergeant Johnson said.
The arrests occurred in houses across the Island, except for one at a Brazilian store at the Triangle. The immigration teams did not conduct searches at Island businesses.
One of the Brazilian workers targeted during the raid remained, given a grace because of her family circumstances, said sheriff Michael McCormack. The woman, a single mother of two young children, remained free on the Island under an order of supervision by local law enforcement officials.
"The immigration officials were very professional and fair," said Sheriff McCormack. His department, at the request of the Boston area immigration headquarters, has been gathering information on immigrants believed to be in violation of prior deportation orders.
All 10 of the Brazilian workers were taken to Plymouth yesterday and detained overnight; they were scheduled to appear in federal immigration court today.
At least two immigration roundups occurred on the Vineyard in recent history. In 1990, officials apprehended 20 illegal immigrants after an Islandwide raid of homes and businesses. Five years ago, immigration officials found unauthorized foreign workers at the Harbor View Hotel, the Kelley House, the Colonial Inn and Donaroma's Nursery and Landscaping Services. Sixty-six illegal immigrants were apprehended during that sweep.
While Boston and Island officials contend that the immigration raid was routine, many within and close to the Brazilian community felt jolted by yesterday's events.
"They took my nephew at four o'clock this morning. He was wearing his pajamas and sandals. He said, ‘Can I put some clothes on?' and they said ‘no,' " said Marci Da Silva, a 44-year-old woman from Oak Bluffs. Her nephew was arrested from a home next to Tony's Market on Dukes County avenue.
As word of the arrests circulated on the Island, many foreign workers decided not to report to work. Humphreys deli in Edgartown did not open its doors yesterday morning, though employees were inside. Two Brazilian businesses at the Triangle, North Star and Blanca's, also did not open for business as usual in the morning.
By early afternoon, many Brazilians felt relieved knowing immigration officers weren't conducting a more massive roundup on the Vineyard.
"If they are going to do that, they'll need a lot of boats," said one Brazilian man standing in front of Island Star, another Brazilian store in Edgartown, wearing his Stop & Shop uniform.
Some foreign workers remained cautious yesterday evening.
"A lot of Islanders were afraid to go home tonight. These people are hardworking and contribute so much to our community. It's a shame to single them out and give them a hard time," said Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman who owns Menemsha Basin Seafood, a fish wholesale business that employs some foreign labor.
Sheriff McCormack said the Island should expect more raids by immigration officials in the near future.
Gazette reporters Chris Burrell, Mark Lovewell and C.K. Wolfson contributed to this story.