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Friday, June 11, 2004

Enraged Reconquistas Plan Protest Over Border Patrol Finally Doing Their Job

PE.com | Inland Southern California | Inland News





Arrests spur protest

Border Patrol detains 150 undocumented immigrants in recent Inland sweeps


01:00 AM PDT on Friday, June 11, 2004



By JAZMIN ORTEGA MORALES / La Prensa The Press-Enterprise

Many Inland Latino immigrants are now hiding in fear after last week's detention of 150 undocumented immigrants on the streets of Corona and Ontario, an area congressman and other Latino advocates charged Thursday.

The detentions, some more than 120 miles from the Mexican border, were conducted Friday and Saturday by 12 U.S. Border Patrol agents based in Temecula. Agency officials said the sweeps did not occur in homes, schools, churches or hospitals.

Tomas Jimenez, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's San Diego sector, said about 95 percent of the arrestees were Mexican nationals. The rest were from Guatemala and El Salvador, he said.


Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise
Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, speaks in Ontario at a press conference called to protest the Border Patrol sweeps in the Inland area. He accused the Border Patrol of "out-stepping their jurisdiction."



The immigrants were picked up outside homes, in parking lots and at swap meets, and near Latino supermarkets, activists said. The resulting deportations have separated families, making other immigrants afraid to leave their homes.

"You feel like an animal in hunting season, who has to stay hidden because it's being pursued," said Olivia Villanueva, 31, who was warned by a friend this week not to go to the Ontario Mills shopping complex. "It's a very sad situation. I don't think we can all survive like this."

Villanueva has been living in the area for 14 years and has two children, ages 4 and 8. She said she wonders what would happen if she were deported.

Agency reports 300 calls
Hermandad Mexicana Nacional in Ontario, a nonprofit immigrant aid organization, has received more than 300 calls from people who said they saw the Border Patrol. Latinos also have been calling and listening to Spanish-language radio for agent sightings.

Abel Medina, director of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, said agents are violating the Fourth Amendment when they stop people based on their racial profile. "Unless they're fortunetellers, how can they know who has and hasn't (documents)?" he asked.

Vocal opponents of illegal immigration, such as Robert Bocock of Murrieta, say the sweeps should be expanded.

"Should I get out my violin? They're here illegally. They're breaking the law . . . they should be deported," Bocock said.

Mexico's consul in San Bernardino, Carlos Giralt-Cabrales, plans to meet with Temecula Border Patrol officials today. "We are very concerned about these operations," he said. "We've had a vigilant attitude, in case there are civil-rights violations or bad treatment."

"Even if we don't like it, we know they are doing their job. Morally it worries us and we reject it because of the effect it has on the family, of separating people," he said.

'Interior patrols' defended

Border Patrol officials say they always have had authority to conduct "interior patrols" away from the border.

The patrols were conducted based on intelligence that could have come from local law enforcement, citizens and agents working in the area, Jimenez said. He said agents decided whom to approach based on a number of factors, including the environment, the person's behavior, physical evidence or conversations agents had. He said agents are not engaging in racial profiling.

Gloria Chavez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, said the arrests were part of "roving patrols" conducted by the Mobile Patrol Group.

"Going to Ontario or Corona was not a new roving patrol location," Chavez said. "They've been conducting roving patrols in these areas." Chavez said many of the people arrested had been deported before or had criminal records.

Mark Reed, a former regional director for the central region of the Immigration Service who now runs his own firm out of Tucson, said doing so-called interior patrols is nothing new. From about 1995 to 2000, agents pulled out of the interiors and started focusing on shoring up the borders because of limited resources. The fact that the agency now has the resources to conduct interior patrols means something, he said.

"It's an indication in that specific area, San Diego, that they have done a really good job of managing that line," he said.

Hector Villagra, regional counsel for the Los Angeles office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the Border Patrol seems to be expanding the scope of its powers.

Authority questioned

"The Border Patrol has pretty broad discretion to question people within 100 miles of the border. Once they leave that area, their discretion is circumscribed mostly by the Fourth Amendment. They need a particular reason to suspect people of being undocumented before they stop them for questioning."

Villagra said he does not know of a history of the Border Patrol doing such patrols in the past but said he recently has started hearing about similar activities in San Diego, Santa Ana, El Monte and La Puente.

A coalition of local pro-immigrant groups is organizing a protest for Sunday at 4 p.m. at the gazebo on Euclid Avenue and C Street in Ontario.

At an afternoon press conference Thursday, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, said the sweeps are illegal. "I believe the Border Patrol are really out-stepping their jurisdiction right now," Baca said. He said border agents were also breaking the law by singling out Latinos, who comprise more than a third of California's population and 40 percent of the Inland area's population.

Baca's response
Baca said he plans to urge the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to send a letter of complaint to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol.

The sweeps led to U.S. citizens and legal residents being detained and questioned, said Emilio Amaya, director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center.

Baca, Amaya and others said undocumented immigrants are too afraid to send their kids to school, go to the grocery store or take the children to health clinics for appointments. Priests from Pomona and Ontario said they were concerned that immigrants would be afraid to come to Mass for fear of being detained by authorities a block or two away.

"Nobody should live in fear . . . We need to make sure we have the same American Dream as everyone else has had," Baca said.

The Border Patrol picked up two parents on their way home from Cardenas Market in Moreno Valley earlier this week, said Luz Maria Ayala, co-founder of immigrant advocacy TODEC Legal Center in Perris. The couple's children ended up stuck at school and were taken in by relatives, Ayala said.

Moreno Valley residents confirmed being stopped and asked for immigration documents near the market around noon Wednesday. A San Diego Border patrol spokesman said the 12-member detention team was in Escondido that day, not Moreno Valley.

'We're still afraid'

Teresa Esquivel of Ontario, has heard the reports. "We're still afraid; there are people like me who aren't going out," she said. "I¹ve been calling people at work and friends. I'm afraid that something could happen to them."

Esquivel, 39, is in the process of legalization, "but that doesn¹t mean anything" if she encounters a Border Patrol agent, she said.

In Home Gardens, an unincorporated area between Riverside and Corona, at least one parent contacted her daughter's school to make sure the Border Patrol would not raid the campus, said Home Gardens Elementary School Principal Linda White. The mother wanted to know if her young daughter could be deported, White said.

"I wanted her to know that immigration isn't allowed to come to school and take children," White said.

Christina Medellin of Colton, a U.S. citizen born in San Bernardino, worries about her Mexican immigrant husband each day he goes to work, fearful he could be deported. His visa is still in the approval process, she said. They have three daughters under the age of 3.

She asked why the Border Patrol isn't targeting Asian and white immigrants as well. "I just don't think its fair," Medellin said.

Staff writer Maria T. Garcia contributed to this report

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