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INS Detainees Surrender After Detention Center Melee

California and the West

Immigration: A nightlong standoff ends after an earlier skirmish resulted in minor injuries to three guards at the El Centro facility.

March 11, 1998|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — About 170 detainees at a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detention facility in El Centro ended an overnight standoff with authorities Tuesday that left three guards injured.

The detainees, who became angry during a routine search for drugs and weapons, barricaded themselves inside two barracks at the Service Processing Center, said INS spokesman Rudy Murillo. The detainees surrendered peacefully to authorities about 10 a.m. after negotiations with FBI agents.

Authorities said the detainees smashed lights, kicked guards and struck them with sticks before using upended mattresses to barricade themselves at the INS facility, which houses 600 to 650 immigrants awaiting deportation hearings or removal from the country.

The guards, employed by a private firm contracted by the immigration agency, were treated at local hospitals and released. Their injuries were not serious, Murillo said.

During the fracas, one guard reported firing wooden bullets at the feet of a group of detainees to help force them back inside their barracks. No detainees were injured, Murillo said.

The detainees reportedly asked to speak with the news media to air complaints about the nighttime searches and other matters. Murillo said he was not aware of any demands having been granted by the FBI negotiators.

It was the second disturbance this year involving detained immigrants at the El Centro facility, which is 114 miles east of San Diego. A group of about 50 detainees under deportation orders set fire to blankets and mattresses and several suffered minor injuries during a fracas in January. Most were dispersed to other INS holding facilities.

Officials say the El Centro facility is home to a growing number of violent ex-convicts as a result of a 1996 immigration reform law requiring that certain felons who are not U.S. citizens be held at INS facilities while awaiting deportation hearings or removal from the country.

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