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Border Patrol Arrests Violated Policy, Agency Concedes

In reply to legislators' criticism, officials plan a report on officers who failed to notify headquarters in Washington of sweeps.

June 26, 2004|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

Border Patrol agents who arrested more than 400 undocumented immigrants during sweeps in Riverside and San Bernardino counties earlier this month acted against a Department of Homeland Security policy requiring agents to clear such operations with their Washington headquarters, officials said Friday.

The undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson, accepted the request of a group of California legislators Friday to review the operation and, during a meeting with them, acknowledged that the agents had broken department policy.

"While the Border Patrol activities in Temecula were within their statutory authority, there was not an appropriate ... headquarters review and approval prior to the beginning of the operation," said Mario Villarreal, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, an agency of Homeland Security.

Villarreal said Hutchinson's office would issue a written response to the California representatives next week.

The sweeps were conducted by the Mobile Patrol Group, a team of a dozen specially trained agents based at the Temecula station in Riverside County. Villarreal said the station had informed Border Patrol in San Diego of the planned sweeps, but not Washington.

The operation caused a stir in Southern California's predominantly Latino communities and drew complaints from some politicians and church leaders that the arrests could lead to racial profiling.

Some also expressed concerns that the sweeps could have a chilling effect on neighborhoods with large immigrant communities.

U.S. Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte), one of the legislators in the meeting with Hutchinson, criticized the agents' methods, which she said included questioning children about their parents' citizenship.

"This is going to put fear into these communities," Solis said.

"Constituents were calling my office telling us that people weren't going to church, people weren't going to work or shopping. Children weren't going to school or going to clinics to get their insulin shots," she said.

Border Patrol officials insisted that they engaged suspected illegal immigrants in consensual conversations before determining whether to arrest them.

They have also said they conducted the raids based on prior intelligence on immigrants who were being sought in connection with crimes.

Solis said that Hutchinson pledged to keep a closer eye on such operations in the future, but did not discount that there would be similar sweeps in the coming months.

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