Saturday, June 14, 2008

Immigration sweep nets 42, provoking outcry (Providence Journal)

Immigration sweep nets 42, provoking outcry

By Karen Lee Ziner

Journal Staff Writer

01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, June 14, 2008

NEWPORT — Community advocates yesterday denounced a two-day immigration sweep on Aquidneck Island as an inhumane and deliberate effort to spread fear, and they said the raids on Wednesday and Thursday had already pushed people into hiding.

At a news conference in Washington Square, half a dozen speakers said agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement had gone into restaurants, stores and apartments during the sweep, but in some cases appeared to be targeting people because they appeared foreign and were driving landscaping trucks.

“This is nothing less than Gestapo tactics, and it has to stop,” said Alison Foley, a Providence lawyer. She said she and others are trying to get legal aid and other assistance to detainees and their families.

Immigration agents, assisted by state and local police, arrested 42 people from Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico in Newport and Middletown, according to Paula Grenier, spokeswoman for ICE in Boston.

She said 21 had ignored final orders of deportation, 12 had illegally reentered the country after being deported, and 9 others were determined to be in the country illegally. Grenier said the agents are members of ICE’s Rhode Island Fugitive Operations Team.

Bruce E. Chadbourne, field office director for the ICE Office of Detention and Removal in Boston, said the agency “is committed to restoring integrity to our nation’s immigration system, and one way to do that is to ensure removal orders are carried out.”

Chadbourne said, “The United States welcomes law-abiding immigrants, but foreign nationals who violate our laws and who commit crimes against those in our communities will not be allowed to stay. Rest assured, ICE will use all available resources to remove from the country those not legally allowed to be here.”

But the Rev. Raymond Tetreault, pastor of St. Teresa D’Avila Church in Providence, called for a hiatus.

“They should call for a cessation of deportations right now, until Congress passes immigration reform,” the priest said. “They shouldn’t make the raids to begin with.” Father Tetreault acknowledged that the detainees were in the country illegally, “but they are coming to work. They’re supporting the economy. They’re doing what we want people to do.”

Carlos Escobedo, consul general for Guatemala in Providence, said he has asked ICE for a list of detainees, and their whereabouts.

“I will ask to visit them,” Escobedo said at the news conference. “We are worried about the families, especially about the children. Somebody told me there are six children without protection.” (That could not be confirmed). Escobedo said he wants to ensure that eligible detainees get their rightful hearing before an immigration judge.

Francesco Hernandez, who owns a landscaping company, said one of his employees alleged that ICE agents took down the license plate number of his truck, when they happened upon it at a local gas station. He said the truck has his company’s name on the side.

“A worker for me was driving the truck, and he was putting gas in the truck at the Shell station,” Hernandez said. “ICE came to put gas in their car, too.” Hernandez said his worker told him that when the agents spotted the truck, they got into an argument over trying to figure out “who is illegal” in the vehicle. That’s when one of the agents copied the plate number, Fernandez said.

“I was thinking they are going to come to my house,” Hernandez said. “But I have nothing to hide.”

The news conference on the steps of the Newport Old Colony House was just blocks from St. Joseph Church, which hosted forums two years ago in which immigrants complained they were being targeted by police and federal agents.

Yesterday afternoon, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Hugo Carmona, predicted that the latest sweep will force people underground.

“People are going into hiding. People right here don’t feel comfortable,” Carmona said. “Some families are completely broken. They feel very scared. People are not going to come out. They’re not going to go to work. They’re staying home.”

Zoila Valladeres, who owns a convenience store on Broadway that sells Guatemalan and Mexican products, said she learned about the immigration raids from a customer when she opened the store Wednesday morning.

“He was as pale as a piece of paper,” said Valladeres, of the customer. “He said, ‘Do you know Immigration is over there’ ” at a nearby store? “And I’m like, ‘Where?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, they’ve got several of my friends.’ He was so nervous.”

Valladeres said another merchant on her block told her that ICE agents had asked what time her store would be opening.

“Maybe they thought I was hiding?” she said. “If they want to come in, let them.”

Rosanne Sieglar, a Newport artist, said she was supposed to attend the wedding next week of a friend she’s known for 10 years, but she learned the ICE agents had arrested and detained him. “He was supposed to be married,” she said. “He has a masonry business. He worked so hard. He used to work at the Black Pearl [restaurant].”

Sieglar said the man’s relatives “are terrified. They’re hiding out somewhere.”

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