Without hesitation, Melecio de la Paz walked directly toward Immigration and Naturalization Service patrol agents Alex Hasychak and Robert Coleman. And they, without hesitation, asked to see his green card.
De la Paz, 43, produced his documents and then asked to look for a friend inside an INS van. Only moments earlier, Hasychak and Coleman had rounded up several illegal alien suspects during a raid in Orange. But De la Paz's friend wasn't in their van.
It took De la Paz about half an hour to find him, moving from vehicle to vehicle until he had checked most of the eight vans that were used to detain suspects during the INS sweep along East Chapman Avenue Wednesday.
"I just wanted to give him some money," De la Paz said. "He doesn't have any. They'll leave him in Tijuana, and he won't have a way to get home."
De la Paz's friend is one of 123 illegal alien suspects who soon will find themselves across the border. The INS sweep that resulted in their apprehension lasted less than two hours, but it affected many lives.
"Arrest him for transporting (illegal aliens) and seize his vehicle," INS Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell ordered as agents escorted workers out of the back of a truck.
The driver was asked if he knew why he was being arrested. He was then read his rights.
"I don't understand what's going on," the driver said, as a television camera rolled and several news photographers clicked their shutters. He said he had come to get workers, and "you guys are arresting me for transporting illegal aliens."
Wednesday morning's sweep--billed as the first in a series throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties--was successful, said Ezell, who has pledged to stem the tide of illegal aliens from Mexico.
INS agents chased the men mostly in marked vans. Television cameras and reporters awaiting the sweep in conspicuous spots at several intersections did not scare off the men waiting for jobs. The INS vans did.
"We had some pretty good runners," Hasychak said.
The agents traveled swiftly from spot to spot, sometimes chasing men through the bushes and over walls. Hasychak said they prefer to keep a "low profile--there's no need for the John Wayne stuff."
Asked whether INS sweeps are effective in lowering the number of undocumented immigrants in the country, his partner, Coleman, said: "You don't look at it in terms like that--you just hold up your end of the bargain."
That end of the bargain included stopping those who looked Mexican Wednesday. Many were in the country illegally. Some of those stopped were not.
Mexican nationals David Gamez, 23, and his father, Baudilio, 45, said they were not upset that Hasychak and Coleman stopped them, even though they are in the United States legally. They had just finished breakfast at a nearby doughnut shop and were heading home.
"They're just doing their job," said the younger Gamez.
" Carnales ," Hasychak shouted to the two men as the van drove away. The men smiled. The term means brothers.
Elena Velasquez of Orange heard of the raid and immediately came to the site where INS officials and representatives of the news media, who had been alerted by the INS to the raid, gathered after the sweep. Velasquez was afraid that her uncle, a Peruvian whose residency papers are being processed, had been picked up on his way to a bus stop.
"I thought about my uncle--maybe he forgot his papers." She came with a copy of her uncle's documents. But they were unnecessary. He was not one of the 123.