Posted on July 14, 2004

Future Of Roving Immigration Patrol Uncertain

Edward Sifuentes, North Country Times, Jul. 14

Officially, immigration sweeps are still part of the U.S. Border Patrol playbook.

However, immigrant rights groups said they have not seen recent evidence of the Border Patrol units that carried out immigration sweeps and checks at trolley stations and bus ss that sent many illegal immigrants into a panic weeks ago.

Christian Ramirez, director of the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee, said at a meeting in Oceanside earlier this week that he had not received a community complaint about sweeps in more than a week.

Union officials from the Border Patrol have said for the last week that they have not been allowed to perform sweeps.

But a spokesman for the Border Patrol in San Diego continued to say Tuesday that the apparent drop in arrests did not mean that enforcement north of the border was over.

While many in the community are still wary of immigration sweeps, Ramirez said fears have eased and people have slowly returned to normal shopping and work patterns.

Over 400 illegal immigrants were arrested last month in Escondido, Corona and Ontario by a 12-officer Mobile Patrol Group based in Temecula.

More than 11,000 people were questioned and about 330 of them were arrested in June in San Diego by a separate border patrol group called TransCheck, which focuses on trolleys and other areas of public transportation, officials said.

Most of those arrested have been deported.

Residents say the transportation sweeps have subsided. Border Patrol officials say residents shouldn’t be so sure.

“They (the TransCheck unit) don’t always make arrests,” said Steve McPartland, spokesman for the agency in San Diego. “They spend time collecting intelligence and that may be what they are doing right now.”

McPartland said he did not have current arrest figures for the TransCheck unit. He referred questions about the Mobile Patrol Group to Border Patrol officials in Washington, D.C., who did not return calls for comment.

Officials of the National Border Patrol Council, Local 1613, a labor union that represents more than 1,500 officers in San Diego and Riverside counties, said the Mobile Patrol Group has been temporarily disbanded and that officers were reassigned to other duties.

The Mobile Patrol Group began its sweeps June 4 and focused predominantly on Latino neighborhoods, including areas in Escondido, Poway and Rancho Penasquitos where immigrants are known to shop and gather looking for day labor.

There are an estimated 8 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. As many as forty percent of them live in California, according to various studies.

Prominent Latino leaders, including Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, spoke out against the operations, calling them discriminatory. Baca and other Latino representatives met last month with Asa Hutchinson, border and transportation undersecretary for the Department of land Security.

Hutchinson issued a letter after the meeting saying the Temecula station acted “within its legal authority,” but added that the operations were not “pre-approved” by the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Furthermore, Hutchinson said in a June 29 letter to Baca that the Mobile Patrol Group was conducting operations that should have been carried out by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency that handles enforcement within the nation’s borders.

Many local residents cheered the Border Patrol’s efforts against illegal immigrants in recent public rallies and in letters to local newspapers and the Border Patrol. Some were disappointed with recent decisions in Washington to curtail the sweeps.

“We are afraid, we’re concerned for our safety,” said Gary Walker, an Escondido resident who supports the sweeps. “Seniors are afraid to go out at night, and yet illegals continue to come.”