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Protesters Decry Arrests as 'Profiling'

About 50 gather for a rally in Santa Ana. The Border Patrol says it conducts sweeps where it receives complaints.

June 26, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Carrying homemade placards and playing musical instruments, protesters rallied Friday in downtown Santa Ana against recent Border Patrol arrests of undocumented immigrants far from the border.

"We want to send a message against what is happening. The arrests involve racial and ethnic profiling," said Oscar Gaytan, who helped organize a group of about 50 Santa Ana residents.

"Virtually all economic borders have been dropped between the United States and Mexico while the barriers for people to cross borders have become greater."

Motorists beeped and waved as the group stopped at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and raised signs in Spanish that read, "Enough," "We are not illegal, We are human," and "Immigration is not a crime."

A few protesters carried drums and jaranas, string instruments from Mexico's Veracruz state.

"The raids are racist" repeated the protesters in one rhyming chant in Spanish. "We're here and we're not leaving," they cried in another.

The protest came just two weeks after Border Patrol agents arrested more than 440 suspected illegal immigrants in Ontario, Corona, Escondido, Rancho Bernardo and Ramona.

Border Patrol spokesman Gloria Chavez said her agency had sought the undocumented immigrants as part of a new push to respond to complaints from the community. The location of arrests will depend on complaints, she said.

"For the longest time, calls were coming in but we did not have the chance to respond to them. Many times we were limited," Chavez said.

In Temecula, officers "decided to respond and expand a roving patrol. They started going to locations based on intelligence that they received."

Border Patrol agents have so effectively stopped smugglers at the Temecula checkpoint that they have more time for community complaints, Chavez said.

As a result, "The public needs to understand that if you are in the United States illegally, you run the risk every day of being arrested by an immigration officer," Chavez said. " ... It's not only going to happen if you are doing something wrong."

Nativo Lopez, who heads a Santa Ana-based immigrant advocacy organization, Hermandad Mexicana, distributed fliers that offered instructions to immigrants on how to respond to authorities if they are stopped.

The protest "is a manifestation of the panic that [authorities] have created," Lopez said. "Any police vehicle is now feared. They are driving people underground."

The arrests have scared many immigrants from attending public forums, shopping and sending children to school.

Immigration officials "are discriminating against us and work against our community," said protester Pablo Hernandez, a Santa Ana resident, as he stood in the shadow of the high rise federal building.

"If we don't have the right documents, a piece of paper, we are still humans. We are paying taxes. We are paying for buildings like this one."

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