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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Immigration rights meeting draws 200 people North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News

Immigration rights meeting draws 200 people North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News

Immigration rights meeting draws 200 people

By: EDWARD SIFUENTES - Staff Writer

ESCONDIDO ---- Celia Santiago twice narrowly escaped being caught by the U.S. Border Patrol while taking the bus to work from her home in Escondido recently. She was frightened and did not know what she'd do if she was ever stopped.

Santiago and her 14-year-old son, Adrian, were among more than 200 people who attended a meeting at the Escondido Public Library Monday evening to learn more about their rights when approached by immigration authorities.

"More than anything, I'm afraid for my children," Santiago said. "Who will take care of them if I am caught?"


Then she answered her own rhetorical question in a soft voice.

"No one. I have no family here," she said.

Advocates with the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee, a human rights organization, hosted the meeting to answer questions from the community in Escondido, which has seen an increase in the number of Border Patrol enforcement operations in recent weeks.

"There are three mortal sins that one must not commit" when stopped by immigration officers, Leticia Jimenez told the crowd of men, women and children. "Do not offer false documents, do not lie and do not give false names."

Advocates told people they had a right not to answer questions, a right not to allow anyone into their homes without a warrant, a right to call an attorney if arrested and a right to contact the Mexican consul. They also handed out wallet-sized cards with other practical advise and useful phone numbers.

Earlier this month, a unit of 12 officers began roaming three cities in Southern California, including Ontario, in San Bernardino County, Corona, in Riverside County, and Escondido. The team, called Mobile Patrol Group, has arrested more than 400 people since the operation began, including 250 people in Escondido, said Steve McPartland, a spokesman with the agency in San Diego.

Leaders in the Latino community have charged that the operation amounts to racial profiling that is unfairly targeting Latinos.

McPartland said last week that the enforcement operations are not profiling the community and added that the agency is doing nothing new.

"This is something that we've traditionally done," he said. McPartland said the areas are not targeted based on ethnicity, but on specific "intelligence" provided by law enforcement and citizens.

If approached by the officers, McPartland said the officers will ask noncitizens to show proof of being legally in the country, such as passports, green cards and other forms of identification.

Many of the people who attended the meeting in Escondido said they felt discriminated for being Latino, including some who said they were legal residents.

"Let's not be afraid. Let's have faith in God that one day we will have justice," said Julissa Penaloza, of Poway.

Santiago, the single mother from Escondido, said she was glad she attended the meeting because she met people who volunteered to help her take care of her children while she goes to work.

Advocates said they plan more similar meetings to foster the community's spirit of unity.

"Besides the information they take, we want to start giving them the courage to unite and start defending the rights that they have," said Sandra Diaz, of Escondido, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee.

For more information, contact the organization's office in San Diego at (619) 233-4114.

Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-5426 or esifuentes@nctimes.com.

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