SANTA ANA — Latino activists, stepping up their attacks on a series of controversial immigrant roundups earlier this week in Orange, accused federal agents Friday of using "storm-trooper" tactics and called on the government to end all such raids.
But for the first time, the activists also said they must share some of the blame because local Latinos have failed to band together to assert their rights.
"We are not organized," declared Andy Zamora, pastor of the Orange Covenant Church, which is near an apartment complex that was a target of Wednesday's raids. Zamora spoke at a press conference in Santa Ana that was organized by Latino rights groups.
Amin David, a prominent local Latino activist, called the immigration authorities "storm troopers" and said Latinos "have done a terrible job" in asserting themselves for their human rights and in combatting prejudices.
"We haven't done anything about the xenophobia," David said.
At the press conference, officials from a local Latino rights group known as Hermandad Mexicana Nacional offered witnesses' testimony to support allegations that federal and local authorities were abusive and overly aggressive in rounding up suspects in Orange.
The four witnesses echoed many of the allegations that have surfaced during the week over the apprehension of nearly 200 people suspected illegal immigrants from Orange on Wednesday. The raids began at daybreak on Chapman Avenue and spilled over to nearby apartment complexes.
Among the allegations made Friday: that authorities broke a window and forced their way into several apartments; that they harassed and swore at a 15-year-old boy; and that they tied up several people suspected of being illegal immigrants before taking them away to be deported.
Esther Perkins, 26, an Anglo woman who lives on Adams Avenue, said she was shocked to see authorities take a pregnant woman and her husband away from their young child, who was then left with relatives.
"I'm an American, and I don't have a Hispanic cause or anything, but to me that's wrong," she said at the press conference, her eyes welling with tears.
Authorities, however, countered by questioning the credibility of the allegations.
Orange Police Capt. Gene Hernandez, a patrol commander who was at the scene of the raids, said he believes that the broken window residents cited was in fact shattered three weeks before the raid.
"This is pretty solid information that we have," Hernandez said. "Unfortunately, the person that gave us this information has been harassed to death" by apartment residents, he said.
Hernandez said that aside from reports in the media, his department has not received any formal complaint of improper action during the raid. "We stick with what we've been saying: There were no storm-trooper tactics, and our actions were appropriate."
Hernandez said that after reviewing the allegations made since Wednesday, he met briefly with Orange Mayor Gene Beyer late Friday afternoon and reported that he had found no abuses. He also gave city officials a memo on the findings.
Beyer "was obviously pleased with that; he has a lot of confidence in the department," Hernandez said. The mayor could not be reached for comment.
Authorities with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service have also ordered an inquiry into the allegations, and that review continued Friday. But Charles Geer, the agent in the U.S. Border Patrol San Clemente office who was in charge of the raid, says he remains convinced there were no abuses by his people at the scene. (The Border Patrol is a division of the INS.)
Asked about the progress of the review, Geer said Friday: "I've satisfied myself."
In the meantime, some residents and business people have rallied around authorities over the issues of immigration and overcrowding.
One retired resident who lives within a block of the Orange Park Villas apartment complex, where about 25 people were apprehended, cheered the raids in an interview and said he is glad to see some action after having complained to the city some 20 times in the last year about the immigrant issue.
"To me, (the immigrants) are illegal," said the man, who requested anonymity. "They have rights as human beings, definitely, but they don't have the right to clutter up everything."
He complained of parking congestion, junked cars, crime and urination in the streets--all problems that he linked to the wave of illegal immigrants. And although the problem has improved in his immediate neighborhood, he said, "once you get outside the area, it's like Tijuana . . . .
"I'm not blaming these people for trying to make a living; that's understandable. I blame the apartment managers and owners more."
But in his first interview since the raid, John Micuda, the general partner of the Orange Park Villa complex, placed blame on the city.
He said officials have harassed him for the past four years and have refused to allow him to make needed changes at the 260-unit complex.