Monday, June 28, 2004

Patrols for illegal immigrants get criticism

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Patrols for illegal immigrants get criticism

By Gregory Alan Gross
June 24, 2004

Immigrant and Latino activists yesterday denounced the Border Patrol's recent "roving patrols" targeting illegal immigrants, saying they are creating a climate of fear in Latino neighborhoods.

The activists held a news conference yesterday at Christ the King Catholic Church in Logan Heights to lash out at the operations.

"We believe this is an issue of racial profiling and constitutes a gross violation of constitutional and civil liberties," said Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee.

The Border Patrol began sending this month what it described as a "roving patrol" of a dozen agents into North County, as well as neighboring counties in Southern California, to round up suspected illegal immigrants.

The agency disputes characterizations of the patrols as "sweeps," saying it bases the operations on specific intelligence. To date, nearly 500 illegal immigrants have been picked up, the Border Patrol said.

"We're being absolutely inundated with e-mails throwing accolades at the Border Patrol, things like, 'Thank you for enforcing the law,' " Border Patrol spokesman Steve McPartland said. "The agents are thrilled. We have very strong public support."

Mike Wilzoch of the Service Employees International Union questioned the rationale behind the raids in light of Border Patrol claims that they originated from security concerns.

Wilzoch cited Border Patrol figures showing that agents had stopped more than 10,000 people in the past three months to check their identification status and arrested nearly 500 as illegal immigrants without finding any who posed a security threat or were wanted for serious crimes.

"If we in fact have a security threat in this country . . . why are we directing resources and people toward efforts that produce nothing?" Wilzoch asked.

Marta Ayala of Barrio Logan was one of several speakers who called on residents of predominantly Latino neighborhoods to organize against the Border Patrol operations, saying the patrols are making people afraid to leave their homes.

"We are not invaders. We are not criminals. We are not terrorists," she said. "We are defending our dignity."

McPartland said the roving patrols are "a tactic the Border Patrol has used over decades of work," and that the only shocking aspect is that agents are suddenly showing up in areas where they haven't been seen in months or years.

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