YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Immigrants Advised of Their Rights

After recent Inland Empire arrests, activists and officials speak to anxious communities.

June 19, 2004|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

If stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol, immigrants should remain calm and may refrain from answering questions, elected officials and Latino activists said at a Friday news conference in protest of the recent deportation of over 150 illegal immigrants.

Documented and undocumented immigrants have the right to a phone call, the right to a lawyer, the right to say nothing and the right to a hearing before an immigration judge, according to public officials and attorneys.

"The objective today is to try to get the information to the community about what their rights are," said Laura Barrera, district director for Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles). "Don't carry false documents or anything that will incriminate you. They have to have a reasonable reason for pulling you over, but if you run or provide false documents, that will justify your detention."

The news conference in Maywood was one of two on Friday, both of which stemmed from the arrest of 154 illegal immigrants in Corona and Ontario earlier this month. The cities were targeted as a result of intelligence gathering, immigration officials have said. Since the arrests, heavily Latino neighborhoods and shopping districts throughout Southern California have experienced anxiety because of rumored immigrant sweeps outside the Inland Empire.

U.S. Border Patrol officials adamantly have denied operations in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

"I can only tell you and assure you that the Border Patrol isn't operating in those areas," said Sean Isham, spokesman for the San Diego sector of the Border Patrol.

Firebaugh, whose district includes heavily Latino cities such as Bell and Lynwood, was one of about a dozen politicians and educators to decry the Inland Valley arrests.

"They're [racially] profiling us," he said. "They're attacking us because it's easy. It's law enforcement on the cheap and it's got to stop."

At the news conference, a representative for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund asked for witnesses to the arrests and urged those who have had a family member deported to contact the group's Los Angeles office.

The organization is researching the constitutionality of the Inland Valley arrests.

MALDEF also is verifying at least 50 reports from community members who witnessed arrests, said Arturo Carmona, assistant to the group's president. Most of the complaints have come from the Inland Empire, but the organization has fielded some calls about alleged incidents in L.A. County, he said.

In Pomona, Riverside and the Los Angeles area, people can be found who say they have been stopped by the Border Patrol in the last two weeks. They give specific intersections and describe the checkpoints, but neither local police departments nor Border Patrol agents have confirmed the reports.

Commerce, medical care and school attendance in Latino communities have been affected since the Inland Valley arrests and the rumored sweeps elsewhere.

"Generally we see 100 patients a day, now we're seeing 20 to 30 a day," said Jim Mangia, chief executive of St. John's Well Child Center, where the second protest was held. "They're calling and saying, 'I'm not coming in because of the Border Patrol.' "

Leticia Vasquez, a history teacher at Lynwood Middle School, said some of her students have asked for rides because they fear that if their parents go out they may be stopped. She has driven students in her Volvo for two weeks, she said. "They're afraid that their parents are not going to be home when they get back from school," said Vasquez, who is also Lynwood's mayor pro tem.

Pepe Mata and Jorge Gomez, who work at the Maywood Plaza Carniceria, said they try to avoid busy intersections and check to see if anyone is following them.

"Now, the customers call us before they come here," Gomez said. "I used to hang out across the street in the morning, drinking my coffee with some guys, but now I don't even do that."

Los Angeles Times Articles