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Orange County Opinion : And the INS Sweeps Go On

November 02, 1986

The new immigration reform bill passed by Congress is expected to be signed into law by President Reagan soon, perhaps as early as this week. When he signs it, thousands of Orange County residents here illegally will be given amnesty and become eligible for legal status.

But for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, under orders of Harold Ezell, its western regional director, that means nothing. Ezell has ordered his agents to go on with "business as usual."

To INS agents, business as usual means sweeping into residential areas, prowling the streets and hitting stores, buses, parks and cars searching for undocumented residents they didn't catch at the border.

For many Latinos, including native-born and naturalized citizens, business as usual means harassment, or the possibility of it, virtually every time they leave home.

For the community, business as usual means disruption, as Santa Ana again suffered several days last week when INS agents hit the downtown area. By week's end downtown was nearly deserted, except for INS agents.

The raids have disturbed many community leaders, Latino activists, the county Human Relations Commission and downtown business people in Santa Ana. And rightly so. It makes no sense to invest the time and manpower the neighborhood sweeps require when the INS's ranks are so thin that the influx of illegal residents can't be stopped at the border--where the INS should be concentrating its efforts.

And it makes even less sense to be conducting sweeps and rousting people who, any day now, will have a legal right to be in the country.

In the hopes of putting an end to such costly, counterproductive activity, and putting some humanity and reason into the enforcement effort, a coalition of business people has been formed in downtown Santa Ana. The group is urging a moratorium, a sort of cease-fire, until the new federal legislation is signed and sorted out. The approach is reasonable.

Ezell, however, has turned a deaf ear to the pleas for a moratorium. He prefers his brutish approach. That cold, uncaring attitude has been typical of the INS. To get around Ezell's intransigence, the coalition will be seeking political intervention to bring about the moratorium on the INS sweeps. It's worth the effort.

It doesn't appear that Ezell will back off and do the sensible and sensitive thing himself. He's more politician than professional, so perhaps political pressure from Congress or the Administration is the only language he understands--and responds to.

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