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Border Patrol Raids Strike Fear And Panic
In Immigrant Communities
Throughout Southern California

Roberto Martinez
San Diego, California

11,000 detained by the Border Patrol

Over the last several weeks, U.S. Border Patrol agents operating out of the Temecula Border Patrol station have conducted what they term “roving patrols” from Ontario to North San Diego County, detaining and questioning suspected undocumented immigrants, mostly Mexican, but ended up deporting only a few hundred of them. Agents detained and questioned 11,000 suspected undocumented immigrants alone in North San Diego County. Of those, only 470 were actually deported fueling angry reaction from immigrant rights groups in San Diego as to what threat they posed to our national security. The groups also questioned the so-called “intelligence” the Border Patrol used to conduct their raids.

Immigrant rights organizations from Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties have been organizing marches, protests and press conferences in these areas to protest the raids. Mexican Consulates as far away as Los Angeles were being flooded with calls of fear and panic and complaining that they were afraid to leave their homes or take their children to school. Immigrant rights organizations, like the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Raza Rights Coalition, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and several community based organizations are claiming the Border Patrol is conducting these sweeps based on racial profiling, because almost a 100% of the people detained and arrested involve only Mexican immigrants.

Human rights and immigrant rights organizations from San Francisco to Riverside and San Bernardino are also holding marches and press conferences to protest raids in their areas. On Sunday, March 13th over 10,000 people from all over Southern California gathered and marched in Ontario, California to protest the Border Patrol’s terrorizing of Mexican and immigrant communities in Southern and Northern California.

On June 23rd we held a community protest and press conference at Christ the King Catholic church in Barrio Logan where more than 100 people attended to demonstrate their anger and frustration with the Border Patrol. The issue was raised as to how much was it costing taxpayers to conduct these interior enforcement raids on the community-areas up to 50 miles from the border.

On June 29th we gathered again, this time at Chicano Park to hold a press conference and march to protest the continuing raids on our communities by Border Patrol, who said they were conducting legal activities and that the sweeps would continue. Several of us had met local Congresspersons over the last several weeks to urge them to write to Homeland Security about our concerns regarding Border Patrol’s attitude on the raids. Some of them (Congresspersons) said they would meet with Undersecretary of Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson to relay our concerns.

By the time of our gathering and protest at Chicano Park on June 29th, rumors were already circulating that the Border Patrol had violated Homeland Security policy by not getting pre-approved for the sweeps. However, the Border Patrol adamantly insisted they would not suspend the sweeps until they received direct orders from the national office to stop. On Friday, July 2nd it was announced in the media that Undersecretary Hutchinson confirmed that Border Patrol had failed to follow policy in the way they conducted the sweeps of Southern California in their search for undocumented immigrants.

Sweeps on public transportation

For over two years now the American Friends Service Committee and the Raza Rights Coalition have been accusing the Border Patrol of racial profiling in the way they have been conducting their sweeps on the San Diego Trolley, buses, taxis and the Amtrak train-runs between San Diego and Los Angeles. After meeting with the Metropolitan Transit System, the sweeps on the trolley stopped temporarily. The Border Patrol has since resumed boarding the trolley and buses. However, human rights monitors are documenting and videotaping the Border Patrol’s activities at the trolley stops. The Border Patrol is also videotaping our activities because of a violent incident two years ago in which one of our staff people was beaten and arrested for videotaping the Border Patrol boarding and removing passengers at the City College trolley station.

Once the Border Patrol is ordered to stop their illegal activities, we believe it will be several months before communities in Southern California will return to normal. The fear and suspicion that the Border Patrol has created in our communities have always been there to certain extent. However, this time it will take a lot longer to overcome, simply because of the incredible number of people who were detained going about their normal business driving to work, walking their children to school, coming out of markets or shopping centers.

Like the raids in the ’50s and ’80s

In comments and press conference across the state, many older activists like myself, have compared these latest round of raids to Border Patrol’s “Operation Wetback” of the 1950’s, in which I myself was a victim. As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same”. In 1986, we went through the same kinds of raids by Border Patrol when the 1986 Immigration and Control Act approved amnesty for almost 2 million farm workers in California and other parts of the Southwest.

Almost as quickly as we registered farm workers for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program (SAW), the Border Patrol would conduct sweeps of the same areas they have been hitting recently -- in Riverside, Orange County and North San Diego county -- in order to deport as many as possible so that they wouldn’t qualify for the program. Their main objective was to confiscate all of the farm worker’s documents, like receipts, employer letters, and other proof of their 90-day residency, which they needed to qualify for the program. The Border Patrol would take all of these documents and destroy them.

The raids went on for several months until we began, as now, to hold protests and press conferences to denounce these illegal activities. They soon backed off and allowed us to continue our registration of farm workers. The Border Patrol has never had a clear interior enforcement policy. They didn’t in 1986, and they do not now. The only clear policy they maintain is that of a policy of impunity. As we say in human rights work: impunity breeds abuse.

Independent oversight of the Border Patrol

There is obviously a clear need for some kind of independent oversight of the Border Patrol. For over ten years now, in conferences, Congressional hearings, letters to our Congressional representatives, we have demanded better oversight of the Border Patrol. We even helped a Los Angeles Congressman, Rep. Xavier Becerra, draft the language for a federal oversight commission but we were turned down by Congress because they said there was enough federal oversight with the FBI, Office of Inspector General (OIG), Internal Audit, and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. None of these agencies have succeeded in curtailing the human and civil rights abuses that have run rampant along the 2,000 mile U.S./Mexico border in the last ten to twenty years since we have been monitoring and documenting abuses by the U.S. Border Patrol.

The 80 year history of the U.S. Border Patrol has demonstrated time after time that they do not respect the human and civil rights of immigrants -- not even U.S. citizens -- as they demonstrated during the notorious “repatriations” of the 1930s and 1940s when they rounded up tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, legal residents and suspected undocumented immigrants and deported (repatriated) them to Mexico. In the 1950s, during ‘Operation Wetback”, the same racist tactics were used in detaining and arresting U.S. citizens, legal residents, and suspected undocumented immigrants. During these sweeps, the Border Patrol was only interested in the color of our skin, not whether we could prove we were U.S. citizens. During the early 1950s when Operation Wetback was in full swing, I was stopped, detained and often arrested by the Border Patrol on my way home from school, leaving my part-time job, or in my job. They never asked me for proof of any kind. They just hauled me out to the van. Even after I told them I was born in the U.S. they took me driving around looking for more people to arrest.

This is the history of our people. Nothing has changed in 80 years. The only thing that has change is that they now use Latinos to do their dirty work for them so that we won’t yell “racism.” I have news for them.

About the author: Roberto L. Martinez is retired and a past director of director of the U.S. / Mexico Border Program and Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project of the American Friends Service Committee. He is still active in immigrant rights and human rights.

Published in In Motion Magazine - July 2, 2004

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