Immigration Operation Draws Complaints

Leslie Berestein, Union-Tribune (San Diego), March 28, 2007

Residents in several San Diego communities are complaining about the latest immigration enforcement operation in the region, part of a national crackdown on immigration fugitives.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirm that searches for fugitives or “absconders,” typically people who have violated deportation orders, have been carried out this week in several neighborhoods, including yesterday in Linda Vista and earlier in Barrio Logan and Mountain View. Several individuals were detained last week in Escondido.

The agency won’t say how many people have been detained or give details about the searches. Officials say the searches are part of an ongoing countywide operation. Searches such as these have been carried out regularly nationwide since 2003, and with greater frequency as the agency’s fugitive operations budget has grown.

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Residents of immigrant communities have become increasingly upset over the sight of agents knocking on doors. Last night, at a community forum in Mountain View, people who witnessed searches there vented their frustration.

“It’s abusive, what they do,” said Guillermo Hernandez, 53, a legal permanent resident who said he was asked for his papers by agents in front of his home, where he lives with his U.S.-citizen wife, as he chatted with a younger cousin and a neighbor.

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The cousin and the neighbor, neither of whom was in the country legally, were detained. His cousin has been returned to Mexico, Hernandez said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they are searching for specific individuals who have violated a deportation order, skipped an immigration hearing or have committed a deportable offense. These can include legal residents.

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However, whether the person is home or not, the occupants are questioned, as are people in the vicinity. Some say the randomness of who gets questioned or detained is enough to paralyze some neighborhoods with fear.

“Your home is this sacred area where you feel comfortable and at peace,” said Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee, a group affiliated with the Quaker faith that held last night’s forum. “For someone to violate that, it really plants fear.”

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