INS agrees to investigation of abusive sweeps

By Marilyn Bechtel, in People's Weekly World,
7 October, 1995

The district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has agreed to investigate allegations of abusive INS sweeps in the Bay Area, especially those targeting Mexican Americans and Latinos, and owners of two San Francisco apartment houses have agreed to bar the INS from their buildings.

A series of INS sweeps this year, especially targeting the Mission district in San Francisco and Oakland's Fruitvale district, has caused widespread alarm among residents.

Community concerns were summed up in a letter to INS District Director Thomas Schiltgen by Martha Jimenez, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). "Raids conducted near schools, in grocery stores, or with SWAT-like teams of agents, coupled with recent abuses, incites panic in the community," she wrote. "We believe you have the authority and discretion to exercise your law enforcement mandate without the use of these tactics and certainly ... within the bounds of the Constitution." Schiltgen agreed to an investigation during a meeting with community activists, political leaders and legal defense attorneys. However, he refused to pledge that INS would not retaliate against witnesses who came forward.

Tenants in two buildings in the Mission district organized themselves and sought help after the INS raided their homes four times in three months, Renee Saucedo of El Centro de la Raza's San Francisco office told the World. Saucedo, a member of the delegation that met with the INS, said the building manager let the INS agents in, after which they entered apartments and started handcuffing people, even though they had no proof they were undocumented.

Saucedo said the tenants won all their demands: return of deposits to residents who fled their apartments out of fear, compensation for a tenant hurt in a raid, and an unprecedented statement by the owners that they value their tenants' civil rights and would not allow the INS into the buildings. Instead, the owners agreed to give El Centro Legal de la Raza's business card to the INS .

Saucedo said Mission residents and community organizations also met with the district police captain after witnesses spotted officers cooperating with INS raids, despite the city's ordinance of refuge. She said the captain agreed to issue a written statement banning such cooperation and distribute it from a police department table at the Oct. 8 Immigrant Pride Day celebration in the Mission neighborhood.

Juan Lopez, a lawyer with El Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, told the World that seven raids have been conducted in the Fruitvale neighborhood in recent months. In one, he said, 30 to 40 people were picked up.

"The manner they are choosing to enforce the law is what we had the problems with," said Lopez. "We saw a pattern of having raids in predominantly Latino neighborhoods and violating people's constitutional rights."

Lopez said attacks on immigrants, including INS sweeps, have intensified since passage of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 The raids are part of the overall ultra-right attack on the working class, he said, adding, "I think people need to wake up and realize that it is not just an attack on immigrants, it's an attack on everyone."

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