Immigration agents and sheriff’s deputies broke up an illegal cockfighting ring in Arkansas over the weekend, arresting more than 100 people including several suspected illegal immigrants, federal officials announced Thursday.
The raid, which took place in Sevier County, Ark., on Saturday, was the culmination of an 18-month investigation, according to Sevier County Sheriff Robert Gentry.
Following a tip that a cockfight would be held at that location, Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents working out of the Texarkana, Ark., office teamed up with the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, Arkansas State Police and Arkansas Fish and Wildlife to serve the warrant.
Based on information gathered in the course of the investigation, officers initially expected to find between 30 and 40 people at the event, ICE officials said. Instead, they encountered an astonishing 134 people watching the cockfight, and ultimately took 120 into custody.
ICE investigators are in the process of positively identifying the 120 individuals by checking immigration records, the agency said. Immigration agents suspect a portion of those arrested are illegal aliens.
“This collaborative effort not only provided prompt federal law enforcement support to our state and local partners but it also resulted in investigative leads that align with HSI priorities,” Nick Nelson, the assistant special agent in charge, said in a statement. “It was a win-win situation.”
More than 200 live birds were seized in the raid, Gentry said, according to KSLA News in Shreveport, La. Police expect the operation to lead to further arrests of people involved in cockfighting in the area.
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“I expect we will continue to investigate it through the interviews we are going to do,” Gentry said. “There is a possibility we may visit more property.”
The raid also turned up several worksite enforcement leads, ICE-HSI said. Investigators intend to use the information to plan so-called I-9 audits of companies suspected of employing unauthorized workers.
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