By Perlita R. Dicochea
Carrying poster signs that read “Migra Free Barrio,” “Who is the terrorist?” and “Alto a las Redadas (Stop the Raids),” hundreds of concerned residents gathered at Chicano Park on Tuesday afternoon to protest raids conducted by the U.S. Border Patrol under “Operation Transcheck” in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties in the last month.
“People have no idea why they are being stopped by the Border Patrol. The majority of those being stopped have kids who are citizens. They have been stopped while walking their kids to and from school,” Rosalee Leon, President of the Association for Community Organizing and Reform Now (ACORN), said.
Undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assa Hutchison issued a statement last Friday that the Border Patrol’s series of sweeping actions were not authorized by Washington, D.C. and thereby violated DHS policy.
A press release distributed by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), one of the organizers of the rally, reports that over 11,000 residents have been questioned about their residency status by the Border Patrol in San Diego County alone. In all, 470 people, mostly Mexican, have been detained.
“It has never been made clear what the guidelines are for the Border Patrol’s recent raids,” Leon continued, “This absolutely violates citizen and human rights.”
In the face of such violations, Christian Ramirez of the AFSC insisted in front of a host of Spanish and English television cameras, “We will not be intimidated!”
As a result of the unauthorized raids in San Diego County, AFSC and other human rights organizations are asking for the resignation of René González, acting chief of the Temecula Border Patrol station. González authorized BP officers to raid in the cities of Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, and Ontario, among others in San Diego County.
Protesters also view the sweeps as an insult to those Latinas/os now fighting for the U.S. in the War on Iraq.
“Of the 140,000 soldiers in Iraq, 15% are Hispanic and their families are here being mistreated in the U.S.,” Fernando Suárez, founder of the Guerrero Aztec Project, said. Suárez founded the peace and social justice organization after his son, Jesús Suárez, died in Iraq in the spring of 2003.
Leaflets explaining migrant and refugee rights in Spanish were passed out at the protest in order to address the lack of communication about proper procedures between the Border Patrol, DHS headquarters in Washington D.C., and the Latina/o community.
While Undersecretary Hutchison stated the tactics were unauthorized, some contend that the federal government must take action to stop the undocumented immigrant “roundups” and liken the Border Patrol’s recent approaches as forms of terrorism.
Enrique Morones, President of Border Angels among other civil service positions, asserted that the Border Patrol’s approach resembles “Gestapo” tactics. “We will not tolerate it,” he exclaimed, “People are reporting crimes less (as a result of the raids). This is not acceptable.”
In addition to the impact of the raids on Latina/o soldiers in Iraq, the politics surrounding the War on Iraq has facilitated Latina/o and Arab solidarity in San Diego County. Randa Baramki, of the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, explained, “I feel the attack on Arabs and Latinos is one and the same and we must organize against this injustice.”
Others agree that the potential for blatant racial profiling is inevitable. In a news release from the offices of U.S. Congressman Joe Baca, representing California’s 43rd District, Congressman Baca maintained about the raids in Ontario, “This was not an issue of immigration… It was an issue of not targeting people for crimes based on the color of their skin, or the language they speak.”
In its own defense, the Border Patrol explained to the LA Times that raids were conducted based on “prior intelligence on immigrants who were being sought in connection with crimes.”
Yet, in Congressman Baca’s news release Undersecretary Hutchinson admits that only a few of those arrested in the raids had criminal backgrounds.
Government officials offer the events of 9/11 as the reason for heightened security on the México/U.S. border. In response, a poster created by rally organizers reports that the raids in San Diego County have produced zero weapons, suspects, or intelligence regarding threats to U.S. security.
Local and state representatives including Bob Filner and Susan Davis as well as national organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) have issued official statements in opposition to “Operation Transcheck.”
The AFSC along with the Raza Rights Coalition and the Service Employees International Union, Local 1877 organized Tuesday’s protest, which culminated in a series of “Si Se Puede” and “No a las Redadas” chants.