By Raymond R. Beltrán
A group of united organizations held a press conference at Christ is King Church on Imperial Avenue and 32nd Street this Wednesday, June 23rd, to discuss recent raids in Mexican communities by Border Patrol agents, which led to an estimated 470 arrests.
With banners held up by local supporters reading “Alto a las Redadas,” or “Stop the Raids,” community residents from Barrio Logan, South Crest and other Mexican neighborhoods spoke out about their frustrating and expiring fear of Border Patrol agents, who have been pressuring their communities more frequently in the name of “intelligence gathering” and national security.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a human rights group that addresses immigration and border issues, provided statistics from the Mexican Consulate and the U.S. Border Patrol indicating that agents stopped 10,000 people, since early April, to question their citinzenship. Of these people, 300 suspected undocumented workers have been detained and 470 arrests have been made, all which have provided no information leading to security risks.
Border Patrol agents have been photographed by the AFSC and the Raza Rights Coalition on the trolley and at bus stops, particularly on H Street in Chula Vista, 24th Street in National City, and in Old Town San Diego’s trolley station. Communities such as Shelltown, Barrio Logan, Sherman and City Heights have been targeted as well.
In a previous interview with another LA Times reporter Janet Wilson, San Diego’s Senior Border Patrol Agent Tomas Jimenez stated that people are being detained based on their nationality only, and at times due to intelligence collected from community members and law-enforcement officials.
“We don’t know if we’ll come home to our children,” said conference panelist and Barrio Logan resident Marta Patricia Valenzuela about leaving her home to work or buy groceries. “We’re not afraid of the Border Patrol. We are going to organize ourselves because we have that right.”
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 Mike Wilzoch, announced five demands which are split in half for, first, local leaders:
-publicly announce how much of taxpayer’s money is being spent on raids, leading to the detainment of 300 immigrants.
-publicly announce what “security threats” are currently at stake in migrant communities and tell why the information has been disclosed to the communities at risk.
-cease and desist all immigration raids in minority communities and focus on the country’s public safety.
For the Bush Administration, the groups demand that they:
- justify the use of taxpayer’s money for operations that haven’t produced guilty parties, weapons of mass destruction, or any type of useful information in the name of security.
- cease and desist using the tragedy of Sept. 11 to promote the Border Patrol targeting migrant communities which are predominantly made up of working class families.
“It affects all the communities. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have papers,” stated SEIU Director Wilzoch. “Uniformed personnel are bad news for the [working class people]. Fear is spread for folks. They don’t notify authorities for crimes because they’re scared of being detained. And even if you get papers, this is an intrusion to people’s lives and it doesn’t make us any safer ... They should be checking for terrorists on our harbors and our airports. What about those places?”
The SEIU is a branch of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organization) and has an approximate 1.6 million members with about 300 locals across the nation. Wilzoch says their mission is to put pressure on government officials in order for them to change the immigration laws by working with allies from the business, residential, church and human rights communities.
Wilzoch also mentions allies in Republican and Democratic Parties, like Congressman Bob Filner, who’s questioned Border Patrol tactics in the past. The SEIU will be seeking a more permanent residential status for working immigrants, as opposed to the initiative recently introduced in the White House.
George W. Bush’s immigration initiative, which is reminiscent of the Bracero Program of the early 20th Century, grants immigrant workers, who presently have a job lined up, a legal visa to remain in the U.S. for up to three years, but Wilzoch says that it’s not a valid solution for working class people, only a way to “recycle” workers from Mexico.
For now, SEIU and the group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), an organization that addresses housing, immigration, and education issues, are separately holding functions for migrants to provide legal advice, teach them how to properly document and record Border Patrol raids and to inform them about their rights as people living in the United States.
Senior Agent Jimenez also stated to Times reporter Wilson that agents will deter from checking in churches, homes and schools, something that the AFSC and SEIU dispute. Reports and records obtained show that English classes have been targeted, trolley stations and a quinceañera in Orange County was also raided.
“We want transparency with accountability,” said AFSC organizer Christian Ramirez to an opposing spectator. “If this is to curtail terrorist activity, let us know so that we can help … the Constitution of the United States protects the people, it doesn’t specify whether their documented or undocumented.”
Southern California’s Border Patrol Press Officer Vincent Bonds declined an interview with La Prensa San Diego.