Media Report of Raids on Tulsa Illegals Draws Outrage

Randy Hall | Staff Writer/Editor | Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Media Report of Raids on Tulsa Illegals Draws Outrage

( - A series of raids in Oklahoma last week led to the arrests of 127 criminal aliens, fugitives and other immigration violators despite a TV station's news report that not only exposed the operation to the public, but also described the people and the vehicles being used in the effort.

The raids in Tulsa on Wednesday, July 12, led to the apprehension of 46 illegal aliens from Mexico and marked the beginning of a four-day statewide operation conducted by federal immigration agents and local law enforcement officers.

That afternoon, KTUL -- also known locally as NewsChannel 8 -- posted a news article on its website entitled "Dozens of Illegals Targeted in 'Operation Return to Sender.'"

The article began by acknowledging that "officially, this story wasn't supposed to be released until Friday."

"But, early this morning, NewsChannel 8 learned that federal authorities were scattered throughout Tulsa conducting numerous raids against illegals with federal warrants," the article by reporter Burt Mummolo continued.

"'We're conducting a federal operation here,'" an operative is quoted as saying.

"That's the only sound bite you will hear in this story, as federal officials tried to keep the wraps on the Oklahoma chapter of 'Operation Return to Sender,' a nationwide crackdown by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to apprehend illegal aliens with federal warrants," the story noted.

"Today's target was Tulsa," Mummolo stated. "Three passengers were off-loaded from a white van entering the sheriff's barbed-wire yard when we were there. Roughly 40 are expected to be taken into custody by day's end.

"Sources say the operation is set to conclude Friday in Oklahoma, by which time more details regarding the fugitives will be released," the story concluded.

The official statement from ICE's Dallas office was released on Monday, July 17, after the operation had moved to Oklahoma City and resulted in 81 additional arrests between Thursday and Saturday.

"Among the 127 individuals arrested in the Oklahoma operation, so far 100 have already been returned to Mexico," Carl Rusnok, director of communications for ICE's Central Region, noted in a statement for the press.

"The people targeted in this operation had 'their day in court' and were ordered deported by an immigration judge," the release added. "Those who remain at large are on notice: The days when you could ignore an immigration judge's order are over. We are going to find you and send you home."

When contacted regarding the July 12 NewsChannel 8 article, Rushok told Cybercast News Service that he didn't know where the TV station had gotten its information, some of which he said was inaccurate.

"These types of articles that are published prematurely -- especially when the station or the media organization knows that there is an ongoing operation -- can potentially compromise the entire operation," Rushok added.

Nevertheless, Rushok said that last week's effort "was not compromised, and ICE continued with the operation through Saturday as planned."

"When we do fugitive operations, we're not talking about doing it under the cloak of darkness or in total secrecy," ICE national spokesman Marc Raimondi told Cybercast News Service.

"It's nearly impossible to have a multi-day operation where somebody doesn't take notice and some media representative doesn't discuss that there are fugitive teams in the area," he noted, "but with that said, there's also unfortunately a very large number of fugitives, so if one person hears that and leaves, there's always 10 or 100 or 1,000 we can go after."

Sean McLaughlin, news director of KTUL, told Cybercast News Service that he wasn't concerned the report would interfere with the ICE operation.

"First of all, what they were doing was picking up people who had warrants and other things. So it's not like this was a random deal," McLaughlin said. "Secondly, I'm fairly certain most illegal immigrants who don't speak English and such aren't watching our newscast."

In addition, "the police didn't have any trouble with us reporting it," he said.

"Had they come to us and said, 'Listen, this is interfering with our investigation; we think this is going to prevent us getting people off the streets,' we might have made a different decision," McLaughlin added.

"It is something we thought about," McLaughlin said, but "it wasn't like these were murderers. This was an immigration sweep. I just don't feel like what we did hindered the investigation at all."

John Keeley, director of communications at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the media coverage of the illegal immigrant sweep is "potentially a big asset."

"It brings much-needed, long-overdue and unwanted attention on American businesses that are violating U.S. labor and immigration laws," he stated. "I'd like to see more light shined upon these lawbreakers because they've been getting a free pass from the government and to some extent from the American people, for a lot of years."

However, Michael DelGiorno, morning talk show host on KFAQ 1170 AM in Tulsa, said KTUL's decision to run the story "goes beyond bad judgment."

"Instead of getting stories right, they're all about being first, and they don't care whose lives they jeopardize," DelGiorno told Cybercast News Service. "And it's not like they have any excuse. They say right on the web story, 'We were supposed to hold this story until Friday, but Oklahoma NewsChannel 8 learned that ... .'

Regarding McLaughlin's statement that the operation was merely "an immigration sweep," DelGiorno noted that the story indicates the targets were "illegals with federal warrants."

"We're talking about felons, dangerous people, drug dealers, gang members," DelGiorno said. "How could he say he didn't know that? This is a desperate television station jeopardizing my family's safety for their ratings."

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