Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Raids net 32 area illegal immigrants (Palo Alto Daily News)

Raids net 32 area illegal immigrants
Enforcement targets 'fugitives'

Tuesday Sep 30
By Shaun Bishop / Daily News Staff Writer

Nearly three dozen illegal immigrants in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have been arrested as part of the federal immigration enforcement agency's largest-ever operation in California, authorities said Monday.

A three-week enforcement surge led to 1,157 arrests of "immigration violators" statewide, according to officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Of the 436 people detained in Northern California, 22 were from San Mateo County and 10 from Santa Clara County, said Craig Meyer, assistant director of the agency's San Francisco field office.

While the enforcement teams targeted "immigration fugitives" - people who have ignored deportation orders or have returned after being previously deported - about 40 percent of those arrested were other illegal immigrants discovered during the raids.

"We'd go in and we'd ID everybody and we'd run checks, and if we'd find out they were here illegally, we would take them in," Meyer said.

Many of the fugitives were deported within a day of their arrest, and illegal immigrants who were not initially targeted now face deportation proceedings, Meyer said.

As federal authorities praised the success of the operation, pointing out that more than 20 percent of those arrested in Northern California have criminal histories, others say the raids have negative consequences for neighborhoods.

When agents identify themselves as "policia" and arrest anyone they determine is an illegal immigrant, it makes people fearful of law enforcement, said Sheryl Bergman, director of San Mateo County programs for the International Institute of the Bay Area.

"People are going to be less willing to report crimes they witness," Bergman said. "They kind of undo all of the community relations work that the local police and sheriff's departments have been trying to build with the immigrant communities."

Of the 22 arrested in San Mateo County, 15 were targeted and seven were found during the raids; of the 10 in Santa Clara County, four were targeted and six were found.

Bergman said her office has fielded calls from five families in Redwood City and unincorporated North Fair Oaks who among them lost at least seven relatives in the raids.

One elderly man with a heart condition tried to fight deportation because it could put his life in jeopardy, but he was sent back to Mexico with his wife and son, she said.

Another, a woman whose former spouse tried to kill her, has been allowed to stay because she qualifies for a special visa for victims of violent crimes who agree to testify against their attackers, Bergman said.

Meyer of the immigration office said agents are simply enforcing immigration laws enacted by Congress.

San Mateo County sheriffs deputies did not assist in the raids, Lt. Ray Lunny said.

"Our policy has been unless they're involved in a criminal action, we're not assisting ICE with their program," Lunny said.

While Bergman agreed criminals should be punished, she said the raids should stop until Congress can enact meaningful immigration reform, likely after the next president is elected.

"To invest resources to target individuals who have committed no crime other than to try to fill the needs of our workforce, it just doesn't make sense to do that right now," she said.

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