Raids on the minds of hispanic residents

June 15, 2007 11:00 pm

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Arrests of illegal immigrants this weekend in Humboldt County have sparked concern of raids in Del Norte County's Hispanic community.

But local leaders and businesspeople expect little impact and plan to direct local immigrants' attention toward completing their applications for legal citizenship.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers made several arrests on June 10 in the Humboldt County area, according to agency spokeswoman Lori Haley. ICE formed under the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 by combining the law enforcement branches of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"They had targets to look for in that area," Haley said.

Those included immigrant fugitives, who already had deportation orders against them, as well as illegal immigrants with criminal records and those who had returned to the United States after being deported.

Haley would not give detailed arrest numbers from Sunday's checks in the region and did not know if they extended into Del Norte County, but said that ICE officers can question other immigrants about their legal status while searching for targeted fugitives. Officers carry administrative warrants rather than search warrants and need consent to enter homes.

Rumors spread and sparked fear in some Northcoast immigrants who have stayed in their homes or kept their children out of school, said Santiago Cruz, who runs Hispanic Community Affairs, a private consulting firm that serves Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

"They're not coming looking for people house to house. They're looking for specific people," said Cruz, who also serves as editor of El Heraldo, a Spanish-language newspaper in Eureka. "ICE has the right to come. If people have violated the law, they have to pay."

But agents could find other undocumented workers during checks and question the legal status of their immigration, Cruz said, adding that residents can refuse officers without warrants from entering their homes.

"Sometimes people don't realize that," Cruz said.

In some cases, arrested illegal immigrants have a chance to legally apply for relief, said Svitlana Elliott, an immigration attorney in Humboldt County.

In other cases, they have no recourse.

"It depends on the person's circumstances," Elliott said.

Following the raids, she has noticed how immigrants have mobilized to get documents and file their papers to legally stay in the country.

"They see the hurry. They want some proof," Elliott said. "If ICE comes, there's some proof."

Through his Crescent City-based, nonprofit Manos Unidas, Rene Quintana offers local immigrants help with citizenship application papers. After last Sunday's arrests, he's taken a few calls.

"There's a fear, a general fear, but I hope that they could turn to people like me in the community," Quintana said. "I just want to let them know that we're here to help them."

Manos Unidas operates out of Smith River United Methodist Church.

"Traditionally, churches are looked upon as a sanctuary," Quintana said.

At La Joya Market, a Smith River store that serves the large Hispanic population, owner Luisa Brambila heard about the Humboldt County arrests – and heard from area immigrants, as well. Some have friends and family in Humboldt County.

"Everybody was calling here at the store," Brambila said. "Everybody was scared."

At Christina's Mexican Restaurant in Crescent City, waitress Claudia Ramirez heard reports from a Spanish language radio station out of Eureka. She has also heard local immigrants detail horror stories of crossing the border.

"Thank God that my parents came in legally and I was born here 'cause we don't have to deal with anything like that," Ramirez said.

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