Thursday, July 17, 2008

Arresting Legal and U.S. Citizens are rising at a high levels.

Two U.S. citizens and one legal permanent resident were among those arrested last month in Mount Pleasant, Texas, during a federal immigration crackdown targeting identity fraud at poultry giant Pilgrim's Pride.

One 19-year-old citizen was taken from her home while still in her pajamas, and an 18-year-old citizen was shackled at his ankles, handcuffed at his wrists and tied at his waist, said the arrested workers and a relative. All three speak mostly Spanish

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, contends that such arrests are rare and that when it does happen, citizens are immediately released.

But across the U.S., reports of arrests and detentions of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are increasing.

Lawyers and immigrant-defense groups said such incidents will continue to rise as the federal government deepens its crackdown against illegal immigrants – one of the broadest such actions in 50 years.

Raids have intensified in the last two years – a get-tough approach in the absence of comprehensive immigration legislation.

Federal lawsuits

Two federal lawsuits representing 122 workers have been filed challenging mass detentions of U.S. citizens, during immigration raids. All were either citizens or people in the U.S. with legal status.

Juan Manuel Carrillo, 18, who worked at the Mount Pleasant Pilgrim's plant for $9.75 an hour, was one of 46 arrested in a pre-dawn dragnet that included 300 ICE agents and other personnel.

He said he told officials that he was a U.S. citizen.

"I said I was born in San Diego, and they said they didn't believe me," Mr. Carrillo recounted, in Spanish. "I said I was telling the truth. They said I was working with another's Social Security number."

Mr. Carrillo said that when his 17-year-old brother, Marco Antonio, brought him his U.S. passport, immigration agents insisted the pair were lying and asked him where he bought the passport.

Mr. Carrillo was taken to Mexico as a toddler by his Mexican-born parents and lived there for 15 years, before returning to the U.S. about a year ago. He speaks little English.

Xochitl Delgado, 19 and also a worker at Pilgrim's Pride, was arrested in her home in the early morning of April 16 and taken into custody still in her pajamas, said her older sister, Griselda Delgado.

She said her sister, born in the U.S., is still too traumatized to speak about the arrest.

"Every time she remembers she cries," Griselda Delgado said. "Before they take a person away, they should do a deeper investigation about who has documents."

Mr. Carrillo said he remembers Ms. Delgado sitting in a cell in her pajamas and sandals. ICE officials said Xochitl Delgado was wearing "an ample sweat suit."

U.S. prosecutor

Alan Jackson, a Tyler-based assistant U.S. attorney, said all criminal charges have been dismissed against the three workers, arrested on suspicion of using a Social Security number not issued to them.

"After the arrest, we determined that dismissal was appropriate," he said.

Asked if investigators believed that the three were using false Social Security numbers, even though they had authentic ones, Mr. Jackson said: "What it means is that we felt the evidence that they were using someone else's Social Security number wasn't strong enough."

Mr. Jackson said that his office moved quickly to dismiss charges against Ms. Delgado.
"We were racing against the clock to do it and get the district clerk to stay late enough to process it," he said.

The indictment against Xochitl Delgado was dismissed "in the interests of justice" at 5:03 p.m. April 17, about 35 hours after her arrest, according to the pleading in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Texarkana Division.

Mr. Jackson declined to comment on whether those arrested might themselves be victims of identity theft.

But ICE spokesman Virginia Kice noted that, in general, the burden of proof rests with the federal government for establishing what it calls "alienage" – or whether a person was born outside the U.S.

There is no comprehensive government database that establishes who holds U.S. citizenship, she added.

Jesus García, a 27-year-old legal permanent resident, was also picked up by authorities and his arrest was photographed by a newspaper owner who followed ICE agents to several locations.

Mr. García insisted that he'd broken no immigration laws. Eventually, he was released and reunited with his U.S. citizen wife and five daughters.

"I was not to blame for any of the charges," said Mr. García, who no longer works at the Pilgrim's plant.

Federal immigration agents and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, John L. Ratcliffe, said at a Dallas news conference in April that the national arrests were part of "an ongoing criminal investigation" into criminal activity involving alleged identity theft.

Of the more than 300 workers arrested at five Pilgrim's plants across the country, about a third were criminally charged, immigration officials said.

A spokesman for Pilgrim's Pride Corp. – based in Pittsburg, Texas, with $7.59 billion in revenue last year – said the company cooperated with officials and has not been charged.

Matt Yarbrough, a lawyer who has prosecuted immigration-related crimes as a former assistant U.S. attorney, said the operation at Pilgrim's Pride raises questions about excess use of law enforcement power.

"There is reasonable and then there is overly aggressive," said Mr. Yarbrough, who prosecuted an immigration raid against the Pappas restaurant chain in the 1990s.
"Those factors to a court are going to seem overreaching and ultimately the government could be liable for falsely imprisoning someone."

Peter Schey, president and executive director for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles, said he believes that U.S. citizens are increasingly facing federal immigration agents who are incredulous about their U.S. citizenship.

"If more U.S. citizens exercise their rights to seek damages in these illegal detentions," that could cause the Department of Homeland Security to re-evaluate the way they search for those in the U.S. illegally, Mr. Schey said.

February 2008: 114 workers, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, are temporarily detained during a raid at Micro Solutions Enterprises in Van Nuys, Calif. In April, each filed federal claims for $5,000 in damages. In that raid, ICE agents blocked exits and prevented employees from leaving until more than 100 workers were arrested on immigration-related offenses, and eight more on criminal charges.

August 2007: Alicia Rodriguez, a Mansfield tax preparer, is held for 16 hours before she is able to convince authorities she is a U.S. citizen. She was picked up on a warrant for a traffic violation. Authorities mistook her for an illegal immigrant deported three years earlier, who insisted she was a U.S. citizen. "They were pretty belligerent in not believing me," said the 29-year-old Ms. Rodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez said she now carries a copy of her U.S. birth certificate with her.

June 2007: Jose Cesar Guzman, a Santa Fe, N.M., chef from El Salvador with legal status, is held for five weeks because of a mix-up in his legal files. He was mistaken for another man with a similar name, Jose Carmelo Guzman, said his attorney, Olsi Vrapi of the Noble law firm in Santa Fe.

May 2007: Pedro Guzman, a U.S.-born man who some say had mental health problems, was removed to Tijuana by federal immigration agents. In August, he was reunited with his family. His attorney, Mark D. Rosenbaum, the legal director of the ACLU in Los Angeles, has sued the federal government on constitutional grounds. "They had records that reflected he was a U.S. citizen and they asserted he was a U.S. citizen," Mr. Rosenbaum said. ICE spokesman Virginia Kice said the litigation constrains her comments on the case. But she said the man "made repeated assertions that he was born in Mexico."

December 2006: Eight workers with U.S. citizenship or legal permanent resident status are detained as part of an immigration raid of Swift & Co. plants across six states, including one in Cactus, Texas. Of the 1,297 workers arrested, 274 were criminally charged with violations related to identity theft or other offenses. The United Food and Commercial Workers union sued ICE, claiming the raid violated the workers' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. ICE is asking that the suit be dismissed.

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