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Latinos Back Santa Ana Drug Crackdown : Chief’s Vow Not to Sweep Up Innocent Aliens Cited

Times Staff Writer

Latino activists said Wednesday that they trust Santa Ana Police Chief Raymond C. Davis, who has promised that federal immigration agents invited along on police raids will not sweep up illegal immigrants uninvolved in criminal activity.

However, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Orange County questioned whether illegal immigrants will distinguish between immigration raids assisted by police and police raids assisted by immigration agents.

The rare cooperative effort between Santa Ana police and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was announced Tuesday by Davis as part of the “Swat Hypes” program, a six-month crackdown on drug dealing and related crime scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Focal Point of Attention

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Davis has attracted considerable attention in years past for his criticism of immigration raids in residential neighborhoods and workplaces, a sensitive matter in a city where it is estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of the residents are in the United States illegally. Davis has steadfastly maintained that it is illegal for police to assist INS in apprehending people who are in the country illegally.

But INS involvement in the Swat Hypes program, Davis said, “is not a change in our policy.”

Immigration agents will accompany Santa Ana officers only when police serve search or arrest warrants on locations where undocumented aliens are known to be involved in criminal activity, Davis said. In such cases, INS agents may take into custody illegal immigrants found inside drug houses, even when police have insufficient evidence to arrest them, he said.

But Gonzalo Pineda, supervising attorney with the Orange County Legal Aid Society, said he does not understand how the INS participation “jibes with (Davis’) stated policy.”

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Pineda said the effect of INS involvement may be to inhibit illegal immigrants and discourage them from contacts with police, including the reporting of crimes in which they are the victims.

The legal aid group filed a lawsuit in 1979 against Davis, the Santa Ana Police Department and the INS, claiming that a joint police-immigration sweep of “high crime areas” that year violated the civil rights of 10 Orange County Latinos who were citizens or legal resident aliens. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

“Back then (in 1979) it (police and INS cooperation) was to enforce immigration law, and now it is to enforce state (criminal) law,” Pineda said. “It seems the effect and the methods are going to be the same.”

Pineda said he doubts that illegal immigrants will understand why people are being taken into custody by INS “simply because the police think they did something wrong, but they can’t prove it in court.”

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“What happens if (police) go into a house where they expect drugs are being sold, and (there are) a wife and children who happened to be (illegal immigrants)?” Pineda asked. “I don’t think (the INS) is going to be too concerned with whether or not people are committing a crime.”

Keeping Agents in Check

Despite Pineda’s objections, most Latino activists and community leaders interviewed Wednesday said that they have faith that Davis can keep INS agents in check and focus the six-month crackdown only on people involved in criminal activity.

“I’m very confident,” said Amin David of Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino activist group that has worked for the rights of illegal immigrants. “The chief has assured us there will be no incidents of knee-jerk reactions of their (INS) officers. That’s good enough for me.”

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Davis said that community complaints concerning drug sales out of houses and apartments have reached an all-time high and that drug-related crimes ranging from petty thefts to murder are on the rise. In some neighborhoods, “heroin sales are out of control,” a police spokesman said.

In outlining the Swat Hypes crime task force to the Santa Ana City Council on Tuesday, police played a videotape of an actual case to illustrate the difficulty and time-consuming nature of such cases. The tape ended with the arrest of a male illegal alien on suspicion of heroin sales and a female illegal alien for possession of heroin for sale. The woman was shown being placed in a police cruiser along with two small children.

The words Swat Hypes are acronyms for “Special Weapons and Tactics” and “High Yield Police Enforcement Services.”

Davis said Wednesday that he believes that illegal aliens are responsible for no more crime than are citizens but that the aliens are disproportionately victims of drug-related violent crime.

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Through Aug. 1, Santa Ana’s rate for serious crimes--ranging from murder to auto theft--has increased 7.78% from the corresponding period last year, police said. Though burglaries have declined from 4,078 in 1984 to 3,432 in 1985, robberies increased from 496 to 574 and homicides jumped from 17 to 26.

Brought to Santa Ana

Moreover, police said, a new phenomenon has been exacerbating crime in residential neighborhoods. In several cases, Deputy Chief Gene Hansen said, police have determined that illegal aliens are being brought to Santa Ana to set up drug outlets in houses and apartments either rented by or owned by drug wholesalers.

“Everybody agrees that this is a real problem that needs to be dealt with in a rather direct way,” said Msgr. Wilbur Davis of St. Joseph’s Church in Santa Ana. “I expressed some reservations but not opposition” about INS participation, Davis said. He was among community and activist leaders briefed last week by the police chief on the proposed crackdown.

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“I personally trust Chief Davis,” agreed Sister Armida Deck, director of the Hispanic Ministry of Orange, who also attended the briefing. “The bottom line is that they are only going to invite INS officers to come with them when they are absolutely certain the drug dealers are undocumented (aliens). The Hispanic community wants to get rid of the dealers too. Whether somebody’s documented or undocumented really doesn’t matter at that point.”

250 Seized in 3 Days

During the joint INS-police raids in 1979, Lt. David Salazar was in charge of Santa Ana police officers. He also will be in charge of the new crackdown.

About 250 illegal aliens were seized over three days, primarily in Santa Ana bars that had been identified as areas of high crime, Salazar said. Similar action is planned for about 20 bars beginning next month, he said.

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“We did it once, (and) it worked, so we’re following the same basic guidelines,” Salazar said.

Contrary to allegations in the pending lawsuit, Salazar said, “we were not doing indiscriminate law enforcement (in 1979).”

“Basically it is what we’re (planning to) do now,” he said. “I think where it differs from this one is that (in 1979) it was solely INS and the Santa Ana Police Department working as a combined effort. This one is a long, involved effort, and we’re using every tool available, not just INS.”

Police expect to draw on the resources of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department, city fire and code enforcement departments and informants within the community.

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