Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why we still not believe ICE is Targeting Latinos specially Mexicans?.
Targeting Undocumented immigrants. Immigration sweeps fuel debate about racial profiling

By Cass Friedman
Times-News writer

Alicia Martinez bawled outside the Target store like a bride who wakes up to rain on her wedding day.

For her, the rain came at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, three weeks after she married Elias Aguillar-Martinez.

Martinez said her husband was taken by U.S. Border Patrol agents in what the department would later say was one of the region's largest immigration sweeps in recent history. She watched as two uniformed agents snatched her husband, an illegal immigrant who works full-time in a dairy. He was later deported to Juarez, Mexico.

"They thought he looked like what an illegal immigrant looks like," Martinez said. "They said if you don't sit down and shut up we can seize your jointly owned vehicle. I'm an American citizen. I was born here - in San Diego, California."

Border Patrol officials say agents arrested only 108 illegal immigrants in a narrowly tailored operation to disrupt human smuggling through local Greyhound buses.

The operation, however, ended almost as quickly as it began.

Alex Harrington, a Border Patrol spokesman in Havre, Mont., said protests and complaints from Twin Falls have prompted officials in Washington, D.C. to rethink further widespread sweeps in south-central Idaho.

"This operation has definitely stirred up a lot of rumors, a lot of activities," said Harrington. "It's probably not going to be done again - probably not. We were only told to hit the bus lines. Stay on them. These guys (Twin Falls-based Border Patrol agents), they have families. They do what they're told."

But the fallout of the federal arrests has alarmed the regional Latino community and stirred questions about the third-rail of immigration law enforcement - racial profiling.

"The sole reason they stopped him was his dark skin color," Martinez said of her husband's arrest. "They are targeting these people."

Finding their voice

Two days after Aguillar-Martinez's arrest, Eric Valencia, a Washington state native now studying at the College of Southern Idaho to become a paramedic, was approached by two agents who scrutinized his documents outside Ridley's market in Jerome.

Agents questioned his valid Idaho driver's license, but let him go after 30 minutes.

Valencia says he has considered suing the Border Patrol for what he considers racial profiling. He says he must have been singled out because of his race - and the fact that his wardrobe that day included a jacket with a Mexican national emblem.

Harrington declined comment on Valencia's case.

Though Valencia was only inconvenienced, Latinos in the area see it as confirmation that anyone in a public place is subject to questioning by Border Patrol agents.

Harrington vehemently denies that agents engage in any racial profiling.

The targeted operation on bus lines fell well within the Border Patrol's written mission, which "contemplates denial of transportation modes used to move or transit aliens, wherever they are located in the U.S., in order to interdict illegal immigrants before they reach their ultimate destinations in the interior of America."

"I can safely say the agents conducted their operations only around the bus lines because if they were not, they could face disciplinary actions," Harrington said, adding that the agents have assured him they did nothing more than follow orders.

Members of the Latino population simply don't buy the agency's rationale. They say that the Border Patrol's description of a targeted strike at bus lines doesn't match the reality seen by Latinos - American citizens or not.

Their reaction to the unprecedented sweep has been equally unprecedented level of community action. Whether through open protests at Twin Falls retailers, or by organizing in community action groups, the Latino community discovered a voice and growing activism among legal immigrants.

A question of profiling

Karla Belveal, who organized a small protest against the immigration sweep in the parking lot at WinCo Foods on Blue Lakes Boulevard, said she can relate to Valencia's story.

Belveal, now 31, came to the U.S. as a war refugee from Nicaragua. She sees racial profiling as something akin to the injustices she had escaped.

"I have had to fight for my freedom here. But now, because of the racial profiling, I am being persecuted again," said Belveal. "I don't want to be quiet. I want people to come out and not be afraid. I don't want my children to be picked out of a crowd just because of my color. I have been in Idaho for 19 years, and for me to have to carry my citizenship documents is ridiculous."

Dick Salvadore disagrees.

Salvadore, who emigrated from Naples, Italy, to settle in Buhl, says a little questioning is a small price to pay for border security.

"It's going to happen," Salvadore said. "I carry my Social Security card. It's just real unfortunate. But it's just the only way that it can be done. They should have their documents with them."

He says, however, that agents should focus on why undocumented workers flock to Idaho - the fact that businesses in the region are willing to employ them. He has first-hand experience with that issue: After immigration agents cited him for employing illegal immigrants at his Nevada car wash, he changed his perspective and swore never to hire illegal workers again.

Twin Falls Planning and Zoning board member Gerardo Munoz, who was just elected chairman of a citizen committee formed in response to the sweeps, said his goal is improving interracial diplomacy. And he says launching protests like the one in front of WinCo won't help him reach that end.

Munoz says discrimination is nothing new and the recent raids simply provide a catalyst for greater activism.

"Border Patrol says it's very good at picking out people on their demeanor and the way they dress," he said. "And I am saying I don't care how good you are. You are already establishing a profile when you say I am really good at picking out somebody."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lorie Dankers in Seattle said by using their "knowledge, their training and experience," agents can appropriately question people on "reasonable suspicions."

"It's just not profiling," she said.

Harrington said no records exist for how often agents at the Twin Falls Border Patrol substation arrest an illegal immigrant, and how often they get it wrong.

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