Immigrants faced “climate of intimidation” in California fires

Immigrant rights groups and the ACLU say authorities have created a climate of intimidation at evacuation centers set up to help people displaced by wildfires in southern California. As wildfires forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, more than 100 Border Patrol agents were deployed to help evacuate homes, operate checkpoints, guard against looters and assist at evacuation shelters. At an assistance center set up at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, a Border Patrol communications vehicle provided key logistics support and uniformed Border Patrol agents were visibly present. “Having people at evacuation sites in Border Patrol uniforms is asinine,” said Enrique Morones, president of the Border Angels, an immigrant rights group. The ACLU and other rights groups say immigrants were subjected to racial profiling at Qualcomm and were abused by some volunteers who questioned their legal status. They have also said the city did not go out to migrant camps to tell people to evacuate. (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 28)

On Oct. 24, San Diego police arrested an evacuated Mexican family as they tried to leave Qualcomm Stadium. The police handed seven family members—four adults with three children ages two, eight and 13—over to Border Patrol agents, who deported them that same evening. Footage of their arrest was replayed numerous times on local television stations.

According to the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which interviewed the family in Tijuana following their deportation, a volunteer at the evacuation center had called police, claiming that the family was taking more than their share of material aid. At least five police officers responded, aggressively questioned the family, and demanded to know their immigration status. Despite the San Diego Police Department’s official policy of not collaborating with the federal immigration agency, officers called the Border Patrol after determining that the family was undocumented. All of the family’s belongings—including things they had brought with them, such as the children’s backpacks containing personal items—were taken back into Qualcomm Stadium and have not been returned to the family.

The seven members of the family were taken to a Border Patrol facility, where they were processed. From the time of their arrest around 8:30 AM until their deportation after 7 PM, they were not provided with food. The Border Patrol failed to inform the family of their right to consular consultation and phone calls. Two Border Patrol agents insulted the family, calling them thieves and other derogatory names. Consular officials interviewed the family only after they had already signed for voluntary departure. The San Diego AFSC office is coordinating with the local ACLU office in investigating possible civil rights violations. (Update from Pedro Rios, AFSC, Oct. 26)

On Oct. 25 four migrants, two men and two women, were found apparently burned to death in the wildfires in a ravine off state Route 94 in southern San Diego County. Their bodies remain unidentified; authorities suspect they may have crossed into the US shortly before being trapped by the flames. Another 11 suspected undocumented immigrants are among 18 people who have suffered burns from the wildfires and are hospitalized at UCSD Medical Center’s burn unit. (San Diego Union Tribune, Oct. 31)

From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 4

See our last posts on the immigration crackdown and the struggle for the border, the struggle in California, and the California fires