US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 49 Mexicans and two Salvadorans on March 30 and 31 in Merced County in central California. ICE said all those arrested had prior deportation orders. In at least two cases, ICE seized US citizen children off school buses before or after arresting their parents. In Firebaugh, two unmarked ICE vans pulled up alongside a school bus on the morning of March 31, said Brian Walker, superintendent of the Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint Unified School District. One van drove in front of the bus, forcing the driver to stop. Armed ICE agents boarded the bus and took three children away in a van. The concerned bus driver followed the vans to a home where he saw agents handcuffing people who appeared to be the students’ parents, said Walker. In Merced, agents took two students from Franklin Elementary School off a bus after arresting their parents.
Walker said he called ICE officials to discuss how arrests could be handled in the future. “[W]e want to share with them that it can be a traumatizing experience for students to be pulled over,” said Walker. “We…think it could have been handled differently.”
“There was no intention to target the children,” said ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice. “We were arresting their parents. The parents were concerned about the kids coming home to an empty house. We didn’t want to separate a family.”
The timing of the raids, during a week of nationwide protests for immigrant rights, was a coincidence, said ICE Deputy Field Office Director Timothy Aitken. “We do this every day,” he said. “This had nothing to do with the protests or the bills in the House and the Senate.” Three of ICE’s “fugitive operations” teams conducted the raids; local law enforcement agencies were not formally involved, but the Merced County Sheriff’s Department helped with at least one arrest, said Aitken. (Merced Sun-Star, April 4)
School Threats Lead to Student Suicide?
A 14-year-old boy who took part in a student walkout on March 28 in Ontario, California—one of hundreds of walkouts around the country demanding immigrant rights—killed himself on March 30 after a vice principal at De Anza Middle School told him he would be punished for his truancy. The administrator said he could not attend graduation, his mother would be fined $250, and he could be jailed for three years, said attorney Sonia Mercado. Soltero phoned his mother with the news, but before she could get home, he shot himself in the head using a gun his stepfather had hidden in the garage, leaving behind apology notes. “We have to let the schools know that they can’t punish our children for exercising their rights,” said his mother, Louise Corales, in a statement issued by Mercado. (Press-Enterprise, Riverside, April 8; Press Release from Civil Rights Lawyer R. Samuel Paz, April 7)
New Raids in New Orleans
Over the weekend of April 1, ICE agents and the Gretna Police Department arrested 68 immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Peru and El Salvador in a joint operation in New Orleans, Louisiana. ICE said the raid targeted criminals, but admitted that only 12 of the 68 immigrants had criminal records; nine had illegally re- entered the US after having been deported, and three had outstanding warrants of removal. [ICE did not indicate why the others were arrested; presumably they only lacked legal documents.] (ICE News Release, April 5)
On March 17, ICE agents arrested 40 immigrant workers in New Orleans. ICE said the immigrants were undocumented and that at least a dozen of them had violent criminal backgrounds in Central America. ICE officials said the action was not part of a major campaign but was instigated by complaints from people associated with small businesses around Lee Circle who were apparently disconcerted by large numbers of workers gathering there waiting for jobs. During the raid, one worker trying to escape allegedly drove a car over an ICE agent’s foot. (KATC.com, March 18 from AP) Mexican national Dennis Dedert has since been indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of assaulting, resisting and impeding a federal officer. (KATC.com, April 24 from AP)
Senate Compromise Falters
On April 7, a day after key senators announced they had reached a final compromise on immigration reform, the deal fell apart and the US Senate broke for a two-week recess. (CNN, April 8; Time, April 7) The bill would have allowed undocumented immigrants present in the US to get permanent residence within 6 to 8 years, although those here less than five years would have to leave the US first and come back as temporary workers. Those who arrived after Jan. 7, 2004, would not be eligible, but would not be barred from a temporary worker program. (National Immigration Forum, April 7) The compromise also included proposals which would expand expedited removal and legalize indefinite detention. (Asylum Working Group, April 6)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate’s minority leader, apparently scuttled the deal because he feared amendments would make the Senate bill unworkable, and the final bill would worsen when lawmakers meet to reconcile it with HR 4437, an anti-immigrant bill passed by the House last December. In an election year, Reid did not want to lead an effort to block the final bill. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would take the compromise up in committee as soon as the recess ends, and send it to the Senate floor a week later. (CNN, April 8; Time, April 7)
From Immigration News Briefs, April 9
See our last post on the immigrants’ rights struggle.