ENCINITAS — Concluding a weeklong operation, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested 604 illegal aliens in northern San Diego County on Friday and vowed to continue their campaign against undocumented laborers who come here seeking field work and other employment.
"We're going to have better pressure in this part of the county," said Harold Ezell, western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, parent body of the Border Patrol.
The apprehensions raised to 2,875 the number of recorded arrests of aliens since the immigration sweeps began Monday morning in response to complaints that the foreign workers were harassing residents, littering and "being a general nuisance," according to the Border Patrol.
Amid a carnival atmosphere, officials displayed the latest apprehended aliens Friday in an Encinitas parking lot that had been turned into a makeshift Border Patrol processing facility. As journalists took notes and snapped pictures, the aliens, the vast majority of them Mexican men, sat huddled in their stocking feet, occasionally cheering newly arrested colleagues as they were forced to join the group. The Border Patrol, in evidence with dozens of agents and a complement of vans, buses, horses and a helicopter, had ordered the men to remove their shoes as a precaution against escape.
"I believe these folks are not givers to our society," said Ezell, referring to the hundreds of aliens huddled behind him. "They're takers."
Ezell, a strong supporter of immigration reform, denied that the North County sweeps were timed to coincide with congressional consideration of reform.
"I'm not ashamed of what our people have done," Ezell said, "and I'm not ashamed of inviting anyone here to see it."
The commissioner was flanked by area politicians and police chiefs, who expressed their strong support for the Border Patrol operation. Authorities have asserted that illegal aliens are partly responsible for rising crime rates.
The apprehended workers, many of whom said they had spent the night in nearby fields, appeared eager to get it all over with. The vast majority were to be returned to Mexico, courtesy of the Border Patrol. Many said they planned to quickly re-enter the United States illegally to find work in the fields.
"We're just looking for an opportunity to live a better life," said Juan Ibarra, a 20-year-old from Guadalajara who had been working in an area grocery store. "We're not trying to cause any problems."
Antonia Sandoval, a 23-year-old factory worker who said she had been living in Escondido for eight years, disputed Ezell's contention that the Mexican workers were taking jobs from U.S. citizens.
"They say Americans won't even work for the kind of wages we receive," said Sandoval, who added that her 1-year-old son, Pedro, remains with relatives in Escondido.
"I'll see if I can find any work in Tijuana, but the pay there is very low compared to here," said Sergio Antonio Diaz, 22, who had traveled almost 2,000 miles from the Mexican state of Michoacan. "There's work in Mexico, but the pay is so bad a man can hardly live on it."
Sandoval added: "I've got to come back (to the United States) because of my son. I'll be back as soon as I can. This afternoon, maybe."
Although Border Patrol officials emphatically asserted that they would maintain the pressure in northern San Diego County, it was unclear how that goal would be accomplished. Most of the 45 officers who participated in this week's sweeps will be returned to normal duty in the border area, as will the horses, extra vans and helicopter, said Alan Eliason, chief patrol agent in San Diego.
Consequently, northern San Diego County will have the same number of Border Patrol agents assigned to it as before the sweeps. But Eliason said a change in patrol tactics will keep aliens off the streets of Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and other communities where officials say they have been causing problems.