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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

US News Article | Reuters.com

US News Article | Reuters.com

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nearly 400 illegal aliens, mostly from Mexico and Central America, have been rounded up over the last few days by the U.S. Border Patrol in sweeps that immigrant groups say are striking fear in their communities.

About two dozen people on Wednesday protested the raids at a federal building in Los Angeles, saying that they were part of a concerted national effort to track down and deport illegal aliens.

"We cannot and we will not accept institutional fear in our communities as a way of life," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, national coordinator of an organization called Latino Movement USA. He was joined by representatives of Mexican, Honduran and Nicaraguan groups and local church leaders.

But a Border Patrol spokesman insisted that the raids taking place in farming communities east and south of Los Angeles were standard practice, albeit one that has not been used recently. He said the raids were being conducted by a 12-agent intelligence unit but denied allegations that they were arbitrarily stopping Hispanics and demanding to see their papers.

"The recent hysteria may be the result of us conducting these operations where we haven't apprehended people in this volume in quite some time," said Richard Kite, a patrol agent with the San Diego field office.

He denied that the sweeps came from any change in the department's national policy.

But Gutierrez said assertions that the sweeps were limited to parts of southern California were "absolutely false."

"We have reports from as far away as Detroit, Michigan where checkpoints are widespread and people terrorized," he said.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund has opened an investigation into the raids and is seeking people to offer testimony on their own arrests or the arrests of others.

Illegal immigration was already a hot-button issue in California before the raids, most recently as state legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have fought over a proposal to issue driver's licenses to undocumented migrants.

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