YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Orange County

Immigrants Fear Sweep by Border Patrol

Stories alleging a crackdown in San Juan Capistrano circulate in the community. The agency denies any unusual activities.

June 06, 2003|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

About 200 immigrants met with Mexican government officials Thursday night to complain of what they described as heavy-handed tactics by Border Patrol agents in San Juan Capistrano this week.

The crowd gathered in front of an apartment complex in the South County city at a meeting organized by the Mexican Consulate in Santa Ana. They told stories of agents arresting family members as they walked children to school this week. Luis Chao, the Mexican vice consul, said people are being picked up outside coin laundries and supermarkets.

Some parents said their children refused to attend school, fearing arrest by the Border Patrol.

Anxious children wait by the door when their parents leave the house, fearful they will be arrested, said Adela Coronado-Greeley, a community activist.

Border Patrol spokesman Ben Bauman said the agency was doing nothing unusual and was making its regular checks at the bus depot and train station in San Juan Capistrano.

He said agents were not arresting people at schools. He also denied stories flying through the Mexican immigrant community that the Border Patrol was arresting people in churches and parks and was entering adult education classes and arresting illegal immigrants learning English.

Capistrano Unified School District spokesman David Smollar also denied that agents were making arrests at schools. He said that the parents of four children failed to pick them up from school Wednesday and that this may have fueled rumors.

Thursday afternoon, Border Patrol officials took the offensive, calling Spanish-language television stations and newspapers to tell their story.

Bauman said the rumors were fueled by the arrest Wednesday of a suspected undocumented worker, who told agents he had to pick up his son from school later in the day. Bauman said that the man made arrangements with a family member to pick up the boy but that the child was not retrieved.

Bauman said school officials called sheriff's deputies, who took the child to Orangewood Children's Center in Orange.

"It's frustrating to us, because nobody is asking us if any of this is true," Bauman said. "We're not conducting raids in San Juan Capistrano, and we're not going around parks, schools and churches arresting people."

No Border Patrol officials attended the Mexican Consulate's meeting. Bauman said they were not invited.

The Mexican Consulate issued a news release Thursday decrying "abusive INS raids in San Juan Capistrano."

Raquel Olamendi, spokeswoman for the consulate, said officials there had received reports of as many as 20 children who were taken to Orangewood after their parents were deported. "Kids are afraid to be outside because of the Border Patrol," she said.

Deborah Kroner, spokeswoman for the county Social Services Agency, said she was unable to confirm if any children were brought to Orangewood from San Juan Capistrano this week, citing privacy laws.

Maria Ramirez, 23, said her 11-year-old stepbrother and 8-year-old stepsister were taken to the county children's home after two Border Patrol agents arrested their mother Wednesday and took her to the border.

Ramirez said that school officials would not allow her to pick up the children and that deputies took them to Orangewood.

Ramirez said she called Orangewood and wasn't allowed to talk to them. She said the family is especially worried because her stepbrother needs medication he takes for a serious illness. "I don't know what to do," she said. "What do I have to do to bring them home?"

Isabel Dorantes said her 6-year-old daughter's baby-sitter was arrested by Border Patrol agents Tuesday when he took the kindergartener to the bus stop. She said a police officer called and asked the baby sitter's wife to pick up the girl.

"What would have happened if there had been nobody home?" she asked. "What would have happened to my daughter?"

Los Angeles Times Articles