May 29, 2009

Trolley station… or training ground for Border Patrol agents?

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

What was supposed to be a routine trip to work or school, turned out to be a trip where their destination turned into a deportation for the 21 undocumented Mexican immigrants who were detained during a raid at the Old Town trolley station last week.

For three minors in that group of 21 immigrants, it was a one-way trip to Tijuana, that Wednesday afternoon, May 20, when they were deported to the neighboring city.

The deportation of these three high school students has caused a great controversy among the Mexican community and immigrant rights activists in San Diego.

The raid was a joint operation between the Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). According to some witnesses, the participating agents were dressed as civilians.

Spokespersons for the Border Patrol have declared that the immigration officers were only doing their jobs! Meanwhile activists and the families of the deported immigrants have said that it is a violation of their human rights.

Representatives of the American Friends Service Committee, an immigrant-rights non-profit in San Diego, said that the agents engaged in racial profiling in order to question patrons of the Old Town trolley station.

In the past there have been other cases where the Border Patrol ran these types of operations at trolley stations to arrest undocumented immigrants.

For Pedro Rios, American Friends Service Committee director in San Diego, this type of raid creates fear among the Mexican community in the region.

“This type of operation foments fear and distrust of law enforcement agents,” Rios said. “The trolley should be a safe place for students and workers - there is absolutely no justification for detaining minors and separating them from their families.”

Rios added that the raids turn public transportation facilities into a training camp for new immigration agents.

“The Border Patrol uses these raids as training for new recruits,” he said.

But more than anything, the state of fear the raids create forces many people to stop going to work or to stop sending their children to school, Rios said.

“The fear factor is very strong,” he said. “It changes the daily life of many people.”

The families of the three deported minors have decided not to talk to the media anymore, because they are looking for legal assistance to see if there’s anything they can do for their cases, Rios said.

On Friday, May 22, American

Friends and a group of community members held a rally in front of the Trolley Central Office to voice their discontent.

Meanwhile, the General Consulate of Mexico in San Diego voiced its opinion against the raids.

“This Consular Representation also announces its deep worry that the authorities that participated in the raids, didn’t inform the Consulate about the detention of the three minors, and the adults weren’t advised about their right… of contacting this office,” stated the consulate in a press release last week.

Rios said that American Friends encourages people to learn more about their rights during an immigration sweep.

“They have the right to remain silent. They should ask for consulate assistance. These are their rights,” he said.

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