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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 5, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 3Oakland, CA

Fear sweeps into Richmond during raids

Father Ramiro Flores speaks about the negative impact of immigration sweeps during a Jan. 26 press conference at his parish. With him are, from left, Carolyn Krantz, pastoral associate at St. Peter Martyr Parish in Pittsburg, a woman who asked not to be identified as she testified about the deportation of her 30-year-old uncle, and Mark Silverman, an attorney with Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

At Richmond’s St. Mark Parish, members were already struggling with poverty and violence in their community. Then, three weeks ago, another wave of difficulties washed over them – federal immigration officers, armed with deportation orders, were arresting additional undocumented men, women and teens as they left for work or took their children to school.

Father Ramiro Flores, St. Mark’s parochial administrator, began getting calls from distraught parishioners. He and other leaders of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization had a further concern. The fragile trust and cooperation established between the local police and the community to fight drug trafficking and gun violence was quickly eroding because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials were misrepresenting themselves as police.

“Richmond is always a fearful place to live, but now more so,” said Father Flores at a Jan. 26 press conference called by CCISCO to protest the ICE tactics.

Mark Silverman, director of immigration policy at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, added that the current ICE strategy is “defeating decades of work in community policing.”

Immigration officials, however, defend their practice, saying they are federal police and specifically target immigrants with deportation orders, especially those who have committed crimes. ICE agents also have the discretion to question people not on their list.

According to CCISCO, out of the 119 detainees from Contra Costa County, 94 were “encountered in the process,” meaning they had no deportation orders.

Father Flores spoke about a parish leader, married to a U.S. citizen and the father of two young children, who was taken away by ICE. He described a young mother waiting to pick up her child outside a Richmond school. “She was not even allowed to go inside to say ‘goodbye,’” he said of the woman’s detention.

At a Jan. 30 community forum, also at St. Mark’s, several hundred people gathered to protest the sweeps. One participant told of ICE coming to his apartment, breaking the door and detaining him, his wife and son without a warrant. They were later released because they are legal residents.

“Everyone is feeling fear and terror,” said Jessica Peregrina, outreach coordinator at Casa de Esperanza, the social service arm of St. Mark’s.

At the forum, attorney Silverman role-played several scenarios to help participants understand their legal rights as immigrants. For example, he told them that they do not have to open their door if ICE does not have a search warrant. He also distributed a list of immigration attorneys available to help families of persons who have been detained.

Richmond Mayor Gail McLaughlin was among several city officials attending the forum to show support for the immigrant community. Richmond has a policy that local police will not cooperate with immigration agents unless ordered to do so by the chief or city manager, said Councilman John Marquez.

He helped establish this policy in 1990 after police joined immigration agents in major raids against Hispanics living in the downtown area. “I am very disappointed in the way this current activity is taking place,” he said.

Richmond council members said they will introduce a resolution on Feb. 6 asking that the city seek an end to ICE’s current activity and tactics.

Parish leaders in other parts of the Contra Costa County are also concerned. Father Hugo Hernandez, parochial administrator at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Concord, was meeting with parishioners to discuss ICE detentions in Concord.

Carolyn Krantz, pastoral associate at St. Peter Martyr Parish in Pittsburg, said parishioners are “very afraid” that ICE will move to their community next. “These are hardworking people, not criminals,” she said. She too is worried that the positive relationship with the local police, built over 30 years, will be fractured if ICE agents identify themselves as police to enter homes or get people to talk to them.

Attorney Silverman is questioning why ICE is taking such aggressive action on the eve of proposed federal immigration reform that will likely offer paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In a letter to pastors and pastoral staffs last April, Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron said he was committed to “support for those who are suffering and struggling in our communities. Many are far away from home and family, living in the shadows, fearful of discovery and deportation. As the Body of Christ we welcome them as our brothers and sisters and extend our compassion and community support without judgment.”

Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, said the Church must supplement its ministerial programs with political advocacy if it is to meet the needs of the growing immigrant population in the United States.

Some people question the Church’s role in politics or challenge the Church’s position on immigration reform, but the Church’s mission is not limited to people’s spiritual well-being, the cardinal said.“


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