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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 19, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 4Oakland, CA

Catholics join city officials in
protesting immigration raids

Members of the immigrant community in Richmond applaud after the City Council passes a resolution rejecting recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Both Father Ramiro Flores, administrator of St. Mark Parish, and Father Filiberto Barrera, administrator of St. Cornelius Parish, addressed the Council.

The Richmond City Council passed a resolution earlier this month rejecting recent raids on the immigrant community by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and calling upon the federal government to pass decent and fair immigration reforms.

The Feb. 6 resolution also asks ICE to put a moratorium on raids until the U.S. Congress comes to an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform. The debate surrounding it should “be carried out in good faith, rather than against a backdrop of fear, repression and intimidation,” said the resolution.

Father Ramiro Flores, parochial administrator at St. Mark Parish, said the council decision shows “there is still hope for the people who live in this community.” He and other religious leaders have been active in deploring the raids which detained immigrants who were not subjects of detention warrants for criminal activity.

The following day, more than 500 people gathered at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Concord to learn about their rights as immigrants when confronted by ICE and to ask public officials to intervene with ICE to stop its operations.

Concord Vice Mayor Bill Shinn, Council Member Michael Chavez, Police Captain Paul Crain and Barbara Johnson from the office of Congressman George Miller said they would send letters to Congress denouncing the raids.

Father Hugo Hernandez, parochial administrator of St. Francis of Assisi, pointed out that while everybody needs to follow the law, “it is not fair the way ICE officers are doing their jobs. They are generating fear in our community and we have some testimonies about abuse of authority.”

There have been more than 37 documented cases in Concord, according to The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC.)

One Concord resident said that her husband was detained while waiting in his truck for his co-worker. “I didn’t know where he was,” she said. “I didn’t know where to call to find him. When he finally called, he had been deported. I was furious with him. ‘Why did you sign the deportation order?’ I asked. ‘You don’t know how they treat us in there,’ he said.”

During discussion of the Richmond resolution, Councilwoman Myra Lopez, one of the initiative’s authors, argued that the raids have violated human rights and have had a negative impact both economically and socially in a community where one out of four people are immigrants.

She added that immigration operations also have affected the relationship the city has tried to build between police and residents in joint crime-fighting efforts. “If immigration officials identify themselves as Richmond police officers, people are not going to cooperate with local authorities,” she predicted.

The document reaffirms the terms of a 1990 ordinance ordering all officers and employees of Richmond not to inform, assist or cooperate with ICE without the specific authorization of the Richmond city manager or the police chief. It demands that ICE officers identify themselves as federal immigration officers and state that they are not officers of the Richmond Police Department.

Chief Chris Magnus confirmed that his department does not cooperate with ICE.

The resolution also supports immigration reform that speeds up family reunification visas and that leads to permanent residency for workers and undocumented students.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley told El Heraldo Catolico that her agency has tripled the number of fugitive operations teams deployed nationwide – from 18 to 52 in 2006 – and that they expect to have 75 teams around the country by the end of this year.

“The Department of Homeland Security has an ambitious, multi-year national plan to shore up our borders and reduce illegal immigration,” she said. “A key element of that plan is stepped-up interior enforcement, including expanded efforts to identify and arrest immigration fugitives – that is, aliens who are deported and willfully ignore those orders.”

She said ICE prioritizes cases involving criminal aliens and immigration fugitives, but “our officers also periodically encounter other immigration violators while carrying out their duties. In those instances, ICE officers take appropriate enforcement action.”

According to ICE statistics, from October 1, 2006 through January 19, 2007, 239 immigration fugitives, (non-criminal) were arrested and 135 of them were deported.

One St. Francis parishioner said her son, a U.S. citizen, is afraid that he will be targeted by ICE because of his dark skin. “He carries his passport in his pocket even to go to the store,” she said.

Father Hernandez said he is reaching out to all families in his parish who have been separated because of deportation or are frightened. “We are giving them spiritual support; we listen to them and try to guide them to the organizations that could help. We invite all of the community to come to the church and pray for immigration reform.”

Richmond Councilman John Marquez said he hopes residents will continue with their daily activities and not let themselves be intimidated. “We want children to return to school, mothers to leave the house to make purchases, and the men to go to work without fear.”

The Richmond resolution is being sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, to California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and to Congressman George Miller.

(El Heraldo Catolico is the Spanish-language newspaper jointly published by the Oakland Diocese, the Sacramento Diocese and the Archdiocese of San Francisco.)


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