April 6, 2007

Immigration raids rattle the Latino community

A human rights issue and politically driven, say activists

By Raymond R. Beltran

“This is terror just as there was terror in the 1940s, when Hitler terrorized the Jews,” said San Diego resident, Vicente Rodriguez.

Last Sunday, in front of the San Diego Federal Building in downtown, Rodriguez rallied with fellow members of the City College-based Si Se Puede organization to denounce last week’s ICE raids and raise the issue of the inhumane tactics in what immigration officials have callously titled ‘Operation Return to Sender.’

“We need to let these people know that they have to make a statement to the president to stop the raids,” he said. “We need to take a timeout to fix this broken immigration system correctly.”

Elva Salinas, City College professor and human rights advocate, rallies with group, Si Se Puede, at the Federal Building downtown to call attention to recent deportation operations that they say are inhumane. Photos by Gus Reyes.

In the passed three weeks, ICE agents have rattled Latino communities in San Diego and Imperial County by knocking on doors and asking for legal documentation of households, witnesses say straying from a targeted individual, to apprehend and deport those who they’ve broadly labeled ‘undocumented criminals’ and those evading court orders to leave the country.

In three weeks, 359 people were arrested in San Diego and are in the process of being deported, if not sent already, but less than a quarter percent have criminal backgrounds.

Agents have apprehended 18,000 people since operations began in May last year, with San Diego having the highest population of those targeted in the state. In 2006, over 400 were arrested in the city, whereas California experienced just over 700.

But with a supposed 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., activists say not only is ICE a cruel and inhumane agency to perform raids but their efforts are ineffective.

“What’s driving the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids is an attempt to please the conservative side of the Republican Party, where you have the right wing screaming for blood,” said Rodriguez who calls himself ‘an old time activist.’ “And you know the immigrants are being sacrificed.”

Since last week, stories have been surfacing of agents sweeping entire communities in Linda Vista, Mountain View and Barrio Logan, instead of going after a targeted few. Innocent documented family members have been handcuffed and released, according to reports from the San Diego Union Tribune, and worse, activists say that families are being torn apart.

“I think their not prepared for what they’re doing,” said Patricia Andrews-Callori, a clergy member and chair of San Diego’s Interfaith Committee for Workers Justice, a group who advocates for low wage workers’ rights. “They’re saying they’re police and they’re not. So, they go apartment to apartment and our [opinion] is that it’s paralyzing to the community. Innocent people are being caught up in the raids and their children are being left behind.”

She’s currently working with members of the American Friends Service Committee to organize demonstrations and support impacted families however possible.

She says more than anything it’s a human rights issue more than a criminal one and that while families are being supported, “the immigration system is broken and politicians are dragging their feet.”

The latest bill to be introduced is STRIVE, Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy, introduced by Congressmen Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

The bill rose last month, but not without skepticism in its proposed path to citizenship for undocumented migrants. It states migrants who have lived and worked in the U.S. since last June can stay, but have to pay a $500 fine. They can return to their country of origin after six years to re-enter the U.S. through the legal path, which costs up to $2,000 per person.

Conservative critics say it’s merely amnesty for lawbreakers, and liberals say it comes without its guarantees. Migrants can leave the country, but for many who’ve already created a life here may have the iron gates shut once across the border.

American Civil Liberties Union says that STRIVE’s Article III, an identifiable alien security card granted to migrants to gain employment, red-flags people and is unconstitutional.

The proposal also beefs up agents along the border and grants some immigration powers to local police agencies, something that communities like National City highly opposed last year.

But mostly, all critics say it’s nothing new.

Neither is the tactics being used currently to put a Band-Aid over the immigration issue, which has created a witch hunt-style culture of fear. The Latino community is currently experiencing a cyclical return of repatriation operations used early in the 20th Century, where barrios of undocumented families were being swept up and sent to a place that has become no more than a distant mem-ory for them.

“What’s troubling and upsetting to the ACLU is that the ICE agents are sweeping a lot of other people into their operations,” says David Blair-Loy, an ACLU legal director who says they are monitoring the issue carefully. “They’d been looking for 300 people with arrest warrants and agents only arrested 62 of those and ended up arresting 300 other people … obviously, they’re [apprehending] anyone who’s a relative of a fugitive, or affiliated.”

Blair-Loy, who says he feels the operations are politically driven, says agents do have the right to ‘request’ identification of anyone without an arrest warrant, but adds that without it, anyone has the right to remain silent. He urges people not to resist physically but to protect themselves legally.

“Without a warrant … you do not have to consent to a search,” he says. “But if you’re approached, ask if they have one, then, ask to see a copy of it because sometimes they’ll say they have a warrant when they don’t.”

He also says that if agents enter a home without the permission of the residents, residents should state that they’re entering the home without consent.

“The raids are inhumane and a lot of people are getting comfortable about the fact that there’s some legislation going on,” says Elva Salinas, City College professor and Si Se Puede organizer, “but that’s not going to stop anything.”

She says, through her group, she’s gotten calls from parents who stopped taking their children to school during the raids in fear of them being apprehended at school. There’s a lot of confusion and the immigration officials refuse to relay information to media outlets in fear of jeopardizing their operations.

“Our message is - if you are ordered deported you should obey the immigration court’s order,” said Robin Baker, ICE field director of operations in San Diego. “Otherwise, ICE is going to track you down and send you home.”

A handful of activists are urging impacted families to contact Pedro Rios or Christian Ramirez at the American Friends Service Committee, 619-233-4114, for information about their rights.

“Children will remember this forever,” said Si Se Puede’s Rodriguez. “This has to stop.”

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