"The U.S.-Mexican border has be- come a hot spot for armed political unrest and violent drug trafficking. Because of the threats of violence, the U.S. government has put its border S.W.A.T_ team on alert. CBS News has learned [that] for almost a year the U.S. Border Patrol has secretly been training a special 100-man unit. This elite group is known as the Border Patrol Tactical Team. BORTAC is trained to use heavy fire power." CBS News Anchor Dan Rather is- sued this report on March 8. But BORTAC's operations were first un- covered by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) which learned last November that the elite patrol is being trained to deal with "immigration emergencies" which "pose a life- threatening situation to officers or citi- zens." When MALDEF representatives asked Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Alan Nelson to define an "immigration emergency," he stated only that BORTAC would be activated "when lives and property are threatened." He also cited two occasions that might have justified deployment of the pa- trol: the recent riots over alleged elec- toral fraud in Piedras Negras, Mexico, which led some 100 Mexican citizens to flee across the border, and the inci- dents surrounding the death of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency official in Mexico. Created in a climate of heated pub- lic debate over U.S. immigration pol- icy, BORTAC is only one facet of a growing government campaign to de- fend the nation against "the silent in- vasion." In an era of high unemploy- ment and economic insecurity, public officials and the media repeatedly Haitians in a Brooklyn class. charge the estimated 2 to 6 million un- documented workers-most of Latin American origin-with taking jobs from U.S. citizens, depleting public resources and threatening national se- curity. Over the past four years, supporters of a series of legislative packages de- signed to crack down on undocu- mented immigrants (best known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Bill). have framed their as yet unsuccessful campaign in these same terms. And according to recent polls, U.S. public opinion largely supports efforts to seal the nation's borders. The Crime of Being Hispanic Though largely unfounded, the re- strictionists' charges have provided the backdrop for recent assaults on the rights of the undocumented. On May 23, "Jos6 Valdez" approached the San Francisco laundry plant where he worked sorting dirty linen. An INS agent confronted him at the door, de- manding to see his immigration pa- pers. "I'm not carrying my wallet," Valdez responded. "You are very nervous," said the agent, who yelled back into the plant for assistance. Two officers ran up to Valdez, grabbed his arms and twisted them behind his back to handcuff him. One also grab- bed him by the hair and hit his head against a laundry truck. "They didn't have to treat me that way," Valdez said later. "I am a simple, honest worker, not a drug trafficker or an as- sassin." INS seized six other un- documented laundry workers that day. This episode is only the latest in a series of workplace raids dating from April 1982, when the INS conducted a week-long offensive designed to "re- move illegal aliens from the jobs that would be attractive to unemployed U.S. workers." Known as "Opera- tion Jobs," the highly publicized campaign resulted in over 5,400 ar- rests nationwide, mostly of Latin Americans. MALDEF reports that in the San Francisco Bay Area, 462 of the 467 persons arrested were of His- panic origin, a figure highly dispro- portionate to the area's estimated ethnic break-down of undocumented workers. But beyond selectively enforcing immigration laws against Latinos, the raids raised other concerns. Accord- ing to National Lawyers Guild (NLG) attorney Bill Tamayo. "'dozens, if not hundreds, of reports were made con- cerning INS violations of [the work- ers'] rights. Several employees were beaten by INS agents, some ap- prehended were never allowed to see or talk to a lawyer, while others were never even given a chance to show their 'green cards' before being hand- cuffed and taken away to INS deten- tion centers. Mothers and fathers were unexpectedly separated from their children for hours artd sometimes overnight .. Mass confusion regard- ing the right of the INS to conduct these raids resulted in employers lay- ing off or firing Latino workers." Groups fighting the raid.-or "area control surveys"-say these practices deny workers the right to legal due process and freedom from unreasona- ble search and seizure, as protected under the Fifth and Fourth Amend- ments to the U. S. Constitution. The government claims that its ac- tions are covered by a 1984 Supreme Court decision-INS v. Delgado-in which the court held that a typical fac- JULYIAUGUST 1985 Lindie Bosniuk, a graduate student in Latin American Studies at U.C. Ber- keley, will be entering law school this fall. 9tory raid did not violate the workers' constitutional rights. In the Delgado case, as in most raids, INS agents sur- rounded the factory buildings, blocked all exits and questioned workers inside about their immigration status. The court ruled that workers had willingly complied with the question- ing and were free to leave. This amounts to "a twisted and tor- tured reading of the facts of the case," according to NLG attorneys Claudia Slovinsky and Marc Van Der Hout, given "the presence of agents block- ing each exit, armed with badges, walkie-talkies and guns and roving agents in open view questioning workers and taking some of them away. Roundups Lead to Drownings Workplace raids have had much more serious consequences. Califor- nia Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) reports that at least 14 farmworkers have drowned in the last decade dur- ing Border Patrol roundup operations. Several California civil rights, church and farmworker organizations have charged the Border Patrol with "herd- ing" farmworkers toward waterways, forcing them to choose between sur- render or an attempt to swim across. According to information released by California Senator Alan Cranston, eyewitnesses to farmworker drown- ings say the Border Patrol "forcibly restrain[ed] them from saving such victims." Several immigrant workers have also been killed during high- speed highway chases by the Border Patrol. At the request of the California groups, the Organization of American States initiated an investigation into the charges late last year. In recent months, INS has sought to buttress its own deteriorating profile and minimize costs to the employers by instituting an immigrant arrest pro- gram dubbed "Operation Co-opera- tion." INS quietly notifies employers of an impending sweep, allowing them time to find legal replacements for undocumented employees before moving on the plant. Sometimes INS requests employer consent before in- terviewing employees. Co-operative employers are able to significantly re- duce work-place disruption, while those who decline to co-operate face sur- prise sweeps in the future. INS has also extended its raids beyond the worksite to include whole communities, enlisting the assistance of other law enforcement agencies to do the job. One such operation oc- curred on the evening of September 8, 1984, in the small agricultural town of Sanger, in California's San Joaquin Valley. One hundred and fifty law en- forcement officials from the INS, the Fresno County Sheriff's Department, the Sanger and Fresno Police depart- ments, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the U.S. Border Patrol, armed with helicopters, automatic weapons, bul- let-proof vests, floodlights, police dogs and several empty buses, block- aded the main street downtown and conducted a sweep of 16 bars fre- quented by the town's predominantly Hispanic population. "Officers came in like Hitler's police or the police in South Africa," said one tavern owner. In each bar, all patrons were declared under arrest, in- cluding U.S. citizens and legal resi- dents, and each was interrogated about immigration status. Most were held for several hours, denied permis- sion to use the bathroom or to move in any manner. Although the stated ob- jective of the sweep was to enforce al- cohol, drug and prostitution laws, 295 people "were herded into four buses and transported back to Mex- ico," according to the Herald News of Fontana, California. This and similar sweeps throughout California and Florida have provoked strong public outrage. Local newspa- pers and city councils have con- demned the raids, while Hispanic groups report that their offices have been flooded with callers concerned about future roundups. Six U.S. citi- zens (five of Latin American ancestry) have launched a class-action suit a- gainst the INS, claiming that their civil rights were violated during town raids. Attorneys for CRLA, which is hand- ling the suit, charge that "the Mexi- can immigrant is "the 'new Jew,' the victim of a government hysteria that ends up costing everyone their rights." CRLA notes that virtually all the sweeps have occurred on the Saturday evening after the harvest has ended. "It is an old story but one made all the more distasteful by the new tactic of masking the raids in the garb of crime-busting," said attorney Steve Teixeira. Effort to Deny Social Services A most hotly debated aspect of these operations and other recent INS enforcement practices is the agency's increasing collaboration with other law enforcement bodies. The law on inter-agency co-operation in immigra- tion detentions is cloudy, but cases have emerged around the country in which agencies appear to be overstep- ping legal bounds, according to some observers. And even where such co- operation is not illegal, some municipalities have chosen to restrict the practice. Last March, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington issued an Executive Order declaring that his city will cease to co-operate with federal immigra- tion authorities. The Police Chiefs of San Jos6 and Santa Ana, California have publicly announced a policy of non-co-operation with INS and Bor- der Patrol officials, because, accord- ing to the Santa Ana Police Depart- ment, "the raids jeopardize communi- ty relations." INS has extended the scope of its enforcement activities nationally to include entering homes without war- rants; offering U.S. jobs to Mexicans in an undercover operation known as "cold line"; making arrests at soup lines; conducting raids on institutions acting as advocates for the Latino community; and sweeping worksites where undocumented employees are attempting to organize. INS has also increased co-operation with state and federal social service agencies, aim- ing to identify the undocumented and deny services. Rights advocates argue that as a result, immigrants are afraid to seek medical care and other forms of basic assistance for which they are eligible. Legal challenges to many of these practices are underway. But even if the courts declare that INS's ap- prehension techniques are illegal, another 1984 Supreme Court decision REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 10could render such rulings virtually useless for those facing deportation. In INS v. L6pez-Menoza, the court held that information obtained in vio- lation of the Fourth Amendment by INS is not excludable as evidence from deportation proceedings. Though the case represents another major setback, attorneys argue that legal means, though limited, do re- main for protecting the undocumented and challenging INS conduct. In addi- tion, preemptive defense is being or- ganized through "know-your-rights" campaigns around the county. Immi- grants are advised of their right to re- main silent when approached by im- migration officials, and to demand a deportation hearing if taken into cus- tody. The evidence on which the de- portation order is based is almost in- variably obtained directly from the immigrant, according to Antonio Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Center For Law and Justice, and INS figures indicate that over 90% of arrested un- documented immigrants in 1983 ac- cepted deportation without a legal fight. Thousands of Children Held For immigrants who do end up in INS custody, conditions can be both abusive and dangerous. According to Carlos Holguin of the National Center For Immigrants Rights, Inc. (NCIR Inc.) in Los Angeles, INS has made a practice of arresting unaccompanied minors and not releasing them until their parent, usually also undocu- mented, turns him/herself in for inter- rogation. INS has deported scores of children to Mexico alone, while close to 2,000 Central American children around the country are being held in immigration detention facilities, some for months at a time. Prison conditions for both children and adults are frequently grim. At the detention center in El Centro, Califor- nia, immigrants are reportedly sub- jected to hazardous sanitary condi- tions, forced to remain in unshaded, 1 I10-degree sun for hours at a time and are provided with no recreational or reading materials other than the New Testament. At the Laredo, Texas Im- migration Processing Center, privately owned and run by Corrections Corpo- ration of America, strip searches of women and girls were routine until May, when INS yielded to public pressure. South Texas legal aid attorney Pat- rick Hughes reports that children in the Laredo center were placed in iso- lation cells during a recent chicken pox epidemic. According to Hughes, detention capacity for immigrants and refugees in Texas has increased fif- Latin American immigrants worship in a Manhattan church. teen-fold since 1981. Miami immi- grant and refugee rights groups charge that rapes and beatings are common at the nearby Krome Detention Center, and medical care there is inadequate. The grossly overcrowded facility mainly confines Haitians and Central Americans. Moves to heighten public aware- ness of INS abuses are underway. The National Consultation on Immigrants' and Refugees' Rights. held in Los Angeles April 26-27. drew represen- tatives of church, community, legal and labor groups from 16 states. The group agreed to press for Congres- sional hearings into repressive and il- legal INS practices, to launch a na- tional know-your-rights campaign, to encourage municipalities not to co-op- erate with INS and to prepare for a National Day of Justice for Immi- grants and Refugees this fall. But conference participants know they face an uphill struggle. "The Civil Rights Act of 1964 [was not] in- troduced and passed simply due to the good hearts of a few congressmen," says consultation organizer and panelist Maria Kamiya. "Getting that act passed was the result of years of hard work, of community organizing and protest. This is the kind of battle we face in the coming years." Meanwhile, tension at the border continues to rise. Though BORTAC has not yet been deployed, the Border Patrol is experiencing an unprece- dented expansion in funding and manpower. There have been at least eight border shootings between im- migration agents and Mexican nation- als in 1985 alone. In one highly pub- licized case, a Border Patrolman shot and critically wounded a 12-year-old Mexican boy, Humberto Carrillo Es- trada, near San Ysidro, California. The boy was standing on Mexican soil. Though the agent claimed that Humberto was going to pelt him with rocks, and was accompanied by other rock-throwers, the child was shot in the back. The INS defended the agent's actions, claiming they "were justified to protect his fellow agents from grave bodily harm." The San Diego District Attorney's office an- nounced it will not prosecute the agent.
Tags: US immigration, INS, US-Mexico Border, Violence, discrimination, Undocumented