Immigration and Naturalization Service agents rounded up 123 suspected illegal aliens in the City of Orange Wednesday, the first in a planned series of raids in Orange and Los Angeles counties, according to INS Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell.
An area on East Chapman Avenue, between Hewes and Yorba streets, was targeted at the request of a new group, Americans for Border Control. Most of the group's founding members are personal friends or church associates of Ezell, who encouraged the organization's founding.
Both Ezell and Americans for Border Control President Bill Butler, co-owner of a business on Chapman Avenue, denied that there was any favoritism involved in the INS decision to conduct the early-morning sweep. About 20 group members were on hand as early as 6 a.m. Wednesday to cheer on the INS and wave placards with messages such as: "Don't Let the USA Become a Third World Nation."
Between 6:30 and 8 a.m., 16 agents chased men down streets, over walls and through bushes. Most of the suspected illegals did not resist, Agent Alex Hasychak said.
The suspects were taken to the Border Patrol station south of San Clemente, where they were to be given the opportunity to request a deportation hearing or agree to be taken across the border, INS spokesman John Belluardo said.
During the raid, INS agents also impounded two trucks belonging to suspected illegal aliens and arrested an American citizen on suspicion of transporting undocumented immigrants, officials said. The American had a number of suspected aliens in the back of his truck and was taking them to work, officials said. That truck also was seized.
The sweep was witnessed by several reporters and television camera crews, who were notified by the INS in advance of the raid.
Some Latinos who have been critical of Ezell and his policies called the sweep and Ezell's relationship with Americans for Border Control unethical.
"It's inherently unethical to be consciously encouraging a group to foment action when action may not be needed," said state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles). "It's amazing to me that he continues to perform these circus stunts which do nothing to alleviate immigration problems."
Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, said: "Of course, they're not going to publicly say they have an understanding that Americans for Border Control is going to be the trigger mechanism to give carte blanche for Ezell to do his commando raids. (But) we don't have to look very far to see that's the intent."
Ezell said of the criticism, "That's just their smokescreen to discredit the fact that Orange County is running wild with illegals."
Ezell said that a few months ago he thought of sending uniformed agents regularly to places where workers gather. Coincidentally, Ezell said, the Border Control group raised the issue of men congregating for jobs on Chapman Avenue at about the same time.
Butler said he went door to door to collect signatures from 46 business owners who complained of the 200 or so men who gather daily in makeshift street employment centers. Such scenes recently have become common in Southern California as men gather on street corners to await employment as day laborers. Construction, landscaping and other employers then drive by to hire them.
On Chapman Avenue, some business owners have complained that the men litter, urinate in public and appear threatening to women passing by. "It's killing the businesses," Butler contended.
Other shop owners said in interviews that the men didn't concern them and patronized their businesses: "It's inhumane. I can't be for this (the sweeps) because I am a Mexican," said America Miller, owner of Alameda Market. She added that the men regularly buy from her store.
David, of the Orange County immigrants' rights group, said: "Certainly, if that (complaints by some business owners) is happening, it's intolerable conduct of anybody and that shouldn't be . . . and steps should be taken to admonish people to not do that. Is that grounds for the INS to come in? It's a local police matter. If any other citizen is doing that, you don't call the INS, you call the police.
"There's an understanding . . . . Make this survey and turn it in to me, Harold Ezell, so that I can go in and justify these actions. Why didn't they turn it in to the Police Department?" David added.
Orange police say they have responded to complaints in the past and issued citations--mostly to the prospective employers driving around the area who impede traffic or violate traffic and safety laws.
Butler, when asked whether he thought the Border Control organization received preferential treatment, replied: "Not any more than any politician seeking help for their cause. I can't force him (Ezell) to do anything. I don't have any control over anything.