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Coyotes & Campesinos

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Michael Amsler

United they stand: Kim Caldeway and Alicia Sanchez of Pueblos Unidos object to Windsor police involvement in raids.

Immigrants protest Windsor INS raids

By Dylan Bennett

ON THE HUNT for coyotes, a team of federal agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, accompanied by Windsor police, entered three Windsor residences, pistols drawn, late at night in early September.

Instead of "coyotes"--the term for those who smuggle illegal immigrants from Mexico to the United States--the agents reportedly found only illegal farm workers, 17 of whom were arrested, and 10 deported to Mexico.

The families affected by the raid quickly contacted Pueblos Unidos, the local immigrants' rights group, which arranged for a community meeting with Windsor Police Chief David Cedarholm last month to protest the involvement of local police, the lack of an arrest warrant and Miranda warnings, the fear produced by unholstered weapons, and the INS' discouraging detainees from seeking legal counsel.

Two weeks ago Pueblos Unidos organizers Alicia Sanchez and Kim Caldeway accompanied two Mexican women from the raided home to the monthly meeting of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights at the county administration center, where immigrants told of confronting the INS and local police. "The police came and knocked on my door. They told me to open it. I asked them for a warrant, but they said no, it wasn't necessary," a teenage woman explained in Spanish. "I asked them again. They said 'We don't need one. If you don't open the door, we will knock it down.'

"They took us outside and asked us a lot of questions, and then they said they were INS. They asked us to raise our hands. I asked them why. We are not criminals. They took my father and brother. I felt angry and sad."

The young woman with dramatic, long, shiny black hair, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, spoke softly without interruption. Two weeks before, in front of a packed school auditorium at the community meeting with Cedarholm, she had choked on her own emotions, her face contorting in an odd grin that suppressed her tears as she attempted to tell her story.

That evening, about 100 angry members of the local Mexican community, along with representatives from Pueblos Unidos, the ACLU, and Amnesty International, told Cedarholm what they considered the worst part about the INS raid: the participation of two Windsor cops. "Pueblos Unidos wants no cooperation between the INS and Windsor police," Sanchez told the approving audience.

Such cooperation, she argues, poisons the trust between citizens and police by involving local officers with INS operations said to be lacking in due process.

"The INS has a reputation of abusive conduct and disregard for equal treatment," says Judith Volkart, head of the local ACLU.

INS enforcement official James Christensen says administrative law, not criminal law, covers the arrest of illegal immigrants, so that constitutionally mandated warrants, Miranda warnings, and legal defense at public defense are not required.

The local INS raids coincided with the October release of a major report on immigration enforcement by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights that presents five key findings that may apply in the Windsor case. The report concluded that INS raids: violate constitutional and civil rights; destabilize families; undermine fair wages and safe working conditions; and do not significantly affect migration patterns.

And, the report concludes, INS collaboration with local cops seriously undermines community trust. At the community meeting, Cedarholm conceded this was true to some degree.

The report--Portrait of Injustice: the Impact of Immigration Raids on Families, Workers, and Communities--is the collaboration of 150 groups nationwide, including Pueblos Unidos, and is based on documentation from 235 raids in 31 states.

Although the report calls for the total elimination of INS raids, it also documents a growing trend of increased INS enforcement funding and recent jumps in the number of deportations. Since the start of the Clinton administration, the report says, the total INS funding has doubled. In 1993, the INS deported over 42,000 people. By last year that number had jumped to nearly 113,000, with deportation goals increasing each year.

INS officials say there was a total of nearly 2,410 deported illegal immigrants and 530 voluntary returns in fiscal year 1998 in the San Francisco District, which stretches from Bakersfield to the Oregon border, or about four-fifths of the state.

Assistant District Director of Enforcement Mark Reardon reacted strongly when asked about the findings of the immigration report. "These are just baseless, groundless allegations they throw up now and then just to see how you react. Quite frankly, after you see it so many times you tend to overlook it altogether."

PROTESTERS claim INS raids generate a climate of fear in which kids are afraid to go to school, the elderly don't venture from their home, and crimes against immigrants are not reported. "Just as I cannot teach a hungry child, I cannot teach a child who is afraid," says public school teacher Fernando Nugent.

"The first question of Latino victims of violence is, 'Will I be deported?'" says women's rights activist Tanya Brannan. "But Latinos are not only victims of crime, they are witnesses to crime. These raids undermine the security of the community."

INS spokesperson Sharon Rummery says the Windsor police provided merely a "courtesy" escort to protect the INS agents. Local cops commonly help find addresses for INS agents working in unfamiliar territory, she adds, claiming the Windsor police did not provide intelligence for the September raid.

Rummery also says those arrested in Windsor were probably "removed" rather than "deported." She notes that returning to the United States illegally after being officially deported is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Although Cedarholm would not agree to keeping his officers out of future INS operations, the September raids remain an important case for Pueblos Unidos, mainly because so few INS raids come under public scrutiny. "We always hear a lot of anecdotal information, but we very rarely have been able to make contact with the people involved, get their testimonies, go to a lawyer, go to the Human Rights Commission, really kind of follow through, and then do some grassroots organizing with them," says Kim Caldeway of Pueblos Unidos.

After the dust from the election has settled, Caldeway says her group will assist local families with asking the Windsor Town Council for a resolution against future INS raids.

Cedarholm has asked the INS to provide him with a clear mission statement for future raids, to bring a warrant, and to follow up with a written or verbal report. "I still maintain that we need to be there," says Cedarholm. "I wouldn't want a function taking place without our presence if something bad did happen. Or if we had a situation where people were running from a house or being pursued. I want our guys there to know what's up so I can anticipate the calls we could get, the miscommunication, misinformation. And we have a serious officer safety concern."

And there are legitimate complaints about immigrants in the area, he adds. Some Windsor residents have identified certain residences that create a public disturbance, Cedarholm says, by having too many people living in one house during the harvest season.

"The law says that if you are here illegally, you can and will be removed," says INS spokesperson Rummery. "I know there are a lot of people who don't like that law, but the way to change it is legislatively. We have no choice but to enforce the law."

Not lost on critics of the raids is the contradiction of local police helping deport undocumented Mexican farmworkers who are hired in large numbers, especially at harvest time, to fuel the agricultural economy of Sonoma County.

"Police should protect us. We are here to work," said a middle-aged Mexican woman during the meeting with Cedarholm. "Get the drug dealers, don't get the workers."

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From the November 19-24, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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