Two of the detained employees had worked at the nursery for over a decade.
Early in the morning on February 25, a van pulled up to the parking lot in Green House Nursery, a sprawling outdoor nursery in Newberry. Six employees got out. But rather than start the workday, they were immediately frisked, handcuffed and loaded into a van by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“[ICE] swarmed in on them,” said Justin Green, who owns the nursery.
Green said ICE had shown up looking to arrest an employee who drove a van and had a traffic infraction. “They knew where he lived and where he worked,” he said, angrily. “They were waiting for him when he got here.”
Green told The Fine Print there had never been any indication from the state that any of the detained employees were undocumented. Two of them had worked at the nursery for over a decade.
Tamara Spicer, a public affairs officer for ICE, wrote in an email that ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations conducted a “targeted law enforcement activity” in the Gainesville area and “six illegal aliens were arrested as a result of that action.”
The ICE agents allegedly told Green they were from Jacksonville and that his employees would be detained and processed at the Baker County Detention Center, then deported, released or held.
Once someone is in ICE custody, they can be held while their immigration case is pending, according to the National Immigration Project. On average, ICE detains people for one month or less, however, some can be held for years while they wait for their hearing to be scheduled. And even if a final order of removal is issued, ICE can still detain people for a maximum of six months.
A volunteer with Madres Sin Fronteras, a local immigrant-led rights group, said they had gotten word of an increased ICE presence in Gainesville about a year ago, specifically checkpoints on heavily trafficked roads. But they said this is the first time they’ve heard of ICE arresting people.
“Trump is trying to come through with xenophobia and he’s doing it,” they wrote in a text message. “ICE has been essentially profiling people racially and even has tried deporting American citizens for speaking Spanish in states like Minnesota.”
This volunteer asked to remain anonymous since they are connected with undocumented people in Gainesville.
Green said half of his employees are Hispanic and that multiple crews not arrive for work the following morning out of fear more ICE agents would be there.
He added the excessive use of force surprised him.
“I’ve seen people get arrested before but nothing like this,” he said. •