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Saturday, June 19, 2004

Radio warns of 'la migra'

PE.com | Inland Southern California | Inland News

"La migra is at the corner of Eastern and Whittier Boulevard," warns the caller to a Spanish-language radio station. "Stay away if you don't have papers."

Almost instantly, the alert goes over the airwaves, reaching thousands of Latinos in Southern California and sending many into hiding. The broadcasts, which have become almost as frequent as freeway traffic alerts since immigration sweeps began earlier this month, are meant to warn illegal immigrants of locations where Border Patrol agents are operating.

Many of the sightings, however, are not confirmed before they're aired. The Whittier Boulevard broadcast was aired on Oye! 97.5 FM on Saturday morning and referred to a heavily Latino area in the heart of East Los Angeles. The Border Patrol denied conducting a sweep there over the weekend.

The alerts, which use code words for the Border Patrol - such as "la migrana," or migraine - are being heard on numerous Spanish-language radio stations, including several that broadcast in the Inland area. Besides Oye! 97.5, the radio stations that have previously broadcast alerts include La Raza 97.9 FM, La Sabrosa 93.5 FM and El Sol 96.3 FM. None returned phone calls seeking comment.

Pomona resident Jorge Reyes, member of the Latino advocacy group Estamos Unidos - "we are united" - said the warnings have protected immigrants but they've also fueled fear in the Latino community and caused people to shutter themselves in their homes.

The organization began calling Spanish-language radio stations asking them to air the alerts after more than 100 people were arrested in Ontario and Corona earlier this month.

"There is panic all over California," Reyes said. "Maybe these alerts are helping people locally but they may also be scaring people in other areas."

Reyes' group will no longer ask radio stations to broadcast alerts unless members have confirmed that the Border Patrol is operating in that area.

Providing pertinent news

For years, the radio alerts have been common in states such as Texas but were rare in Southern California until recently when the Border Patrol began targeting cities away from the Mexico-U.S. border.

While some Latino advocates say the alerts serve to thwart the deportation of immigrants, Border Patrol officials said they have no impact on the federal agency's operations.

"They're quite common whenever we operate away from the border," said Border Patrol spokesman Steve McPartland. "We can't control that. But they really don't affect the way we operate."

The alerts aren't keeping illegal immigrants out of the Border Patrol's grasp, McPartland said. Sweeps are just as effective since they're "based on intelligence," McPartland said.

Still, radio stations that broadcast the "migra alerts" are helping lawbreakers, said Glenn Spencer, president of the anti-immigrant American Border Patrol based in Arizona.

"That's aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime," Spencer said by phone from Sierra Vista, Ariz. "They're telling people how to avoid detention and apprehension."

Radio stations are doing nothing illegal but simply fulfilling their mission to inform the public, said Kim Holt, spokeswoman for Entrevision Radio, a Santa Monica-based corporation that owns Oye! 97.5 FM.

"As a licensee of the public airwaves, Entrevision and other radio broadcasters are required to provide news and information that is pertinent to their listeners," Holt said by phone. "The immigration sweeps in California certainly qualify as an event that is of the utmost importance to the Hispanic community."

On the surface, it sounds like what the radio stations are doing is "rather benign," said Michael Epstein, a law professor at Southwestern University. If radio stations are merely relaying information from their listeners, "it doesn't sound to me they're obstructing justice."

Epstein said it's not any different from radio stations getting calls from listeners about the locations of DUI checkpoints and then broadcasting those locations.

"It's refreshingly activist in a way," he said.

One listener, who did not want to be identified because she is in the country illegally, said she heard an alert on the radio last week and ignored it even though it reportedly took place in an area of Ontario that she frequents.

"It was warning us to avoid certain streets because 'la migra' was there detaining people," said the woman, who came to California a year ago from Mexico. "I'm not going to let that force me into hiding. I can't live my life that way."

John Kobylt, the outspoken co-host of "The John and Ken Show" on Los Angeles radio station KFI, wondered about the reliability of the information that Spanish-language radio stations are broadcasting.

Opposing the alerts

The issue of Border Patrol sweeps has been a hot topic for the hosts, who openly oppose illegal immigration.

Last week, they encouraged listeners to complain to the Federal Communications Commission after they received reports from listeners that Spanish-language radio stations were telling people how to avoid getting picked up if confronted by Border Patrol agents.

"A lot of our crowd supports the sweeps," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Illegal immigration is a huge drain on the treasury."

Officials at the FCC were unable to confirm Tuesday whether they had received any complaints.

The hosts encouraged listeners on Monday to call the Ontario-based Hermandad Mexicana Nacional to oppose the protest they helped organize over the weekend. More than 1,500 protesters marched in Ontario and Pomona against the recent Border Patrol raids.

The nonprofit agency was inundated with threatening phone calls from listeners of the John and Ken show, said SaraĆ­ Ferrer, membership coordinator for Hermandad.

"They are almost inciting (listeners) to attack us," she said.

Kobylt said he didn't believe claims by Hermandad officials that they had been receiving intimidating and threatening calls.

La Prensa staff writer Jazmin Ortega Morales contributed to this report.

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