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Groups May Sue to Halt Arrests

Latino and civil rights activists consider legal action to stop a Border Patrol crackdown in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

June 16, 2004|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Latino community leaders and civil rights groups on Tuesday said they might take legal action to stop a U.S. Border Patrol crackdown on suspected illegal immigrants in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

"The only way to stop this is if the community comes together," said UC Riverside political science professor and local organizer Armando Navarro.

"All of a sudden, the Border Patrol is hitting different parts of Southern California away from the border. Something is going on."

Navarro and other activists met at the Villasenor Branch Library in San Bernardino on Tuesday evening to coordinate their efforts against the Border Patrol, vowing to file lawsuits and engage in civil disobedience if the arrests continue.

Since June 4, agents have arrested more than 200 suspected illegal immigrants in the two counties. Agency officials said arrests are a result of a shift in tactics by one Border Patrol station based in Temecula, and not a new national crackdown.

Richard Kite, a Border Patrol spokesman with the San Diego sector, said Tuesday that there had been no recent sweeps but that the operations would continue "based on intelligence received" from law enforcement agencies or citizens.

He said the protests would not stop the inland patrols.

Agency officials have said the arrests were made after "consensual conversations" between agents and residents being questioned, and they denied allegations that agents were using racial profiling to target suspects.

A letter made public Tuesday from U.S. Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino) to Robert Bonner, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, expressed concern over "the apparent expansion of your jurisdiction to engage in disruptive enforcement in crowded residential and workplace communities."

Patricio Guillen, executive director of Libreria del Pueblo, a private social service group, called the arrests "something that is unfair and uncalled for."

Carlos Giralt-Cabrale, the Mexican consul in San Bernardino, said Tuesday night that the arrests appeared to be localized incidents.

"It doesn't appear to be a general shift in policy," Giralt-Cabrale said. "We will remain vigilant and try to stay abreast of any actions that might constitute a violation of human rights."

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Times staff writers Janet Wilson and Eric Malnic contributed to this report.

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