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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Immigrant raids leave Long Beach leaders upset

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer
Contra Costa Times

LONG BEACH - Leaders of several Latino service providers, politicians and residents in Long Beach still expressed concern over last week's fugitive surge by Immigration Customs and Enforcement.

Agents from the organization came to Long Beach as part of a statewide effort that netted 286 criminal aliens.

While local officials had no issue with ICE tracking and detaining criminal aliens, they saw it as a secretive and ham-handed approach.

Amelia Nieto, Jessica Quintana and other leaders of social service providers that cater to Latinos, said they received numerous calls from clients telling them that ICE officers were hanging out in parking lots and around popular bargain shopping sites frequented by immigrants.

The rumors kept many Latinos from leaving their homes, Nieto and Quintana said, and spread a palpable fear among the community.

Although Quintana and Nieto did not find any ICE agents, they said rumors were rampant in the community.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said her organization made only one arrest in Long Beach and did not engage in any random sweeps.

The arrest in Long Beach was made on the 1200 block of Walnut Avenue of a Nigerian national, who was a registered sex offender with numerous arrests and a conviction dating to 1996. His name was not released.

"These were targeted arrests, and they were all serious criminals," Kice said.

She said if residents saw agents in a parking lot, they would only be gathering before trying to apprehend someone.

Quintana and Nieto say they don't oppose law organizations going after specific criminals.

"We don't want criminals running in the community," Quintana, the executive director of Centro CHA said. "If (ICE has) specific information, if they're going to homes and they know who they're picking up, that's their job. That I fully understand. But when they go to Targets and Superior Markets and Walmarts and places heavily frequented by Latinos, that's a concern."

Kice said if agents were in any parking lots in Long Beach, then it only would have been a staging area near where the suspect was arrested.

When the rumors of the ICE presence were brought to the City Council on Tuesday, interim Long Beach Police Chief Billy Quach said he had no advance notice of the ICE operation.

Not true says Kice, who says her agents told her they briefed officers in Long Beach's sex crimes unit a day before.

Wherever the communication broke down, it was troubling to 7th District Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, who said the council was in the dark about the action.

"We're the ones who have to be prepared to answer questions of our constituents," she said.

Uranga said she expected the city to make a public statement about its role, or lack of a role, in the surge.

More important, she said, was that the city needs to "get ahead of this" before workers for the 2010 census begin canvassing neighborhoods.

Uranga said rumors of an ICE sweep will make residents more hesitant to answer their doors when census takers come knocking.

Nieto, the head of Centro Shalom, says the ICE action undid months of work she had done attempting to allay fears in the immigrant community.

Traditionally, immigrant communities are often undercounted in the census.

This is important to the city because many federal dollars and programs are attached to population counts, as the 10- year census is the benchmark.

According to ICE, 286 foreign nationals with criminal records were picked up in the three-day statewide operation. More than 100 have already been removed and the rest face deportation.

In a news release ICE said "More than 80 percent had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes, such as rape by force, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Also included in the group are 30 convicted sex offenders, many whose crimes involved sexual assaults on children."

At a news conference Friday, John Morton, homeland security assistant secretary for ICE, said the operation involved more than 400 agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service and several other state and local agencies.

Northern California ac- counted for the largest number of arrests during the operation where 119 were taken into custody. The Los Angeles area recorded the next highest number of arrests with 96. Those detained were from 30 nations, including countries in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Last year, 35,094 arrests were made nationally in special operations. ICE removed a total of 136,126 criminal aliens from the U.S. last year, a record number.