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Priests Criticize Border Patrol

Clerics gathering in Camarillo say a crackdown on suspected illegal immigrants is discriminatory against Latinos.

June 25, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Catholic priests gathered Thursday to denounce a recent U.S. Border Patrol crackdown of suspected illegal immigrants across Southern California, calling it inhumane and discriminatory against Latinos.

Breaking from an educational retreat at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, dozens of priests who minister in Latino neighborhoods called for an end to the enforcement action that so far has netted nearly 450 suspected illegal immigrants in Corona, Ontario and communities in northern San Diego County.

"To immigration officials, we want to remind you that some of your parents and grandparents also were immigrants in the past and that the undocumented are also today your brothers and sisters," said Father Michael D. Gutierrez, pastor at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Santa Monica. He was backed by about three dozen priests, dressed in white vestments, from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"Every human person has a right to eat, to make a living wage with dignity and respect," Gutierrez added. "The recent roundups ... are separating families, affecting the economy, obstructing education and the jobs of the poorest [and] creating an environment of terror in our Hispanic community."

The news conference is the latest public outcry stemming from Border Patrol arrests in inland areas that started earlier this month. Based on intelligence sources, the 12-agent Mobile Patrol Group from the Border Patrol's Temecula station has targeted the Inland Valley areas and San Diego County communities from Poway to Rancho Bernardo.

Most of those arrested have admitted to being in the country illegally and have voluntarily agreed to return to their home countries, said Steve McPartland, a Border Patrol spokesman in San Diego. Most have returned to Mexico, McPartland said.

The enforcement action has aroused fear and outrage in some heavily Latino neighborhoods and shopping districts, with residents and activists questioning whether the Border Patrol has the power to patrol so far from the border.

McPartland said agents had every right to conduct the operations and that the investigations had proven to be effective and would continue.

"Our authority as Border Patrol agents stretches anywhere in the United States," McPartland said. "The intelligence we gather from these guys is invaluable because it shows the intelligence breaches we have in our border operations."

The priests at St. John's Seminary urged immigration officials to accept an offer by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, extended earlier this week, to meet and discuss concerns about the crackdown.

"I know there are concerns about terrorism, but the people we are talking about are not terrorists," said Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop for the San Gabriel region. "They are mothers and fathers and hard-working people in our communities."

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