About 300 people marched through Santa Ana on Saturday to protest sweeps by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, saying that the agency is ignoring a new law that will grant amnesty to many living here illegally.
"The INS continues to roam the streets of cities like Santa Ana, Anaheim and Costa Mesa looking for hard-working and law-abiding people to harass," Father Allan Figueroa Deck told the marchers. "In many cases, the very people the INS continues to chase are the very ones to whom the government of the United States is offering legalization."
The marchers, mostly young people from Roman Catholic churches in the area, said the INS raids violate the spirit of the law recently passed by Congress that, starting next year, grants legal resident status to those who can prove that they have lived continuously in the United States since at least Jan. 1, 1982. It also calls for sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
INS Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell said the protesters would do better to spend their time "informing the community on what their rights and privileges are under the reform act, instead of doing useless things like the walk today."
Although Latino activists said there have been raids in Santa Ana as recently as last Friday, Ezell said he knew of none in the last few weeks. But the INS does not plan to halt its sweeps, Ezell said.
The INS also will continue to respond to citizens' complaints of congregations of illegal aliens, Ezell said. Meanwhile, immigration officers are seeking suggestions from the Latino community on what can be done to help those eligible under the new amnesty law.
"We're interested in getting as many people through the legalization as are entitled to it," Ezell said.
But the marchers said INS agents also are apprehending amnesty candidates.
In addition, Santa Ana downtown businessmen have accused the INS of creating a semi-ghost town by driving away their customers with raids. The Santa Ana City Council earlier this month joined the business owners in a letter to President Reagan asking that the INS sweeps be halted.