- Jan 16, 2006
- Reaction score
- Vicksburg, MS
If maybe they came here legally, this wouldn't be happening.Immigration sweeps a 'reign of terror'
Latinos unfairly targeted for deportation by federal efforts, advocate groups say
By Kimberly S. Wetzel, MEDIANEWS STAFF
Article Last Updated: 01/29/2007 02:48:53 AM PST
Calling recent immigration sweeps in the region a "fishing expedition," members of West Contra Costa's Latino community said Friday that tactics used by federal officials were immoral and brought a "reign of terror" to the community.
Immigrant rights groups joined Latino public officials and business leaders Friday at St. Mark's Church in Richmond to say that federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents have purposely and unfairly targeted Latinos, misidentified themselves as police officers and illegally arrested people who are not on the deportation list.
"There has been a lot of fear," said the Rev. Ramiro Flores of St. Mark's. "We have lost the trust of the community."
ICE agents have knocked on doors of several people with deportation orders in Richmond and Concord in the past couple of weeks, in some cases detaining other household residents who could not show documentation.
That is within the realm of what immigration officials can do, ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said.
Several people charged that agents have gone beyond household arrests to detain people on the street, which is not allowed.
One woman at the St. Mark's news conference Friday who declined to give her name said her uncle was stopped by authorities while riding his bike on his way to work and later deported to Mexico. Haley said she has not heard of anyone being arrested while riding a bike.
"My kids were very afraid," she said. "They said, 'Why did they take my uncle?' It's very sad."
Haley said ICE agents have acted within the law to identify themselves as police officers and have not illegally arrested anyone. She said officials knock on the doors only of targeted individuals and do not accost people at random.
"Our arrests are targeted and return to sender," Haley said in a telephone interview. "We do not make random arrests, pulling people off the streets."
The targets have not just been Latinos, Haley said.
"We certainly do not target people by nationality," she said. "People are targeted because they are not following orders from an immigration judge to depart the country."
Latino community members said Friday that many now refuse to go outside for fear they will be arrested. Richmond City Councilman John Marquez said there has been a noticeable drop in business along the 23rd Street corridor, and Meadow Homes Elementary School in Concord had a significant dip in attendance after the sweeps last week.
West Contra Costa school district spokesman Paul Ehara said absentee rates at Chavez and Downer elementary schools — both with large numbers of Latino students — were higher than usual last week.
"They don't want to go outside; they don't want to send their kids to school; they don't want to go to the grocery store," said Richmond resident Jessica Peregrina. "This is really affecting our community."
Richmond High School Principal Orlando Ramos said about 150 fewer students than normal showed up for classes in the first couple of days after the sweeps. He said he has heard students at the mostly Latino school talking in the halls about how concerned they are. Fliers have been distributed outlining students' rights in the event ICE officials knock on their doors.
"The environment is definitely tense," Ramos said. "A lot of my students don't know where to go for information. They're very scared. Living in Richmond is stressful enough for these kids, and now you put this on top of it."