Sweeping through the city’s streets, barrios and playgrounds in broad daylight, local and federal authorities rounded up 98 suspected illegal aliens in four hours Thursday.
Teams of local police officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents combed the city in Corona police cars, only stopping long enough to start a conversation with their suspects, handcuff them and deposit them in a steady stream at the city jail.
There, all available manpower was used to frisk and book the suspects, pack their belongings into brown paper bags and put the arrestees in jail, as many as two dozen to a cell. Within minutes, the teams were on the road again to pick up another pair, another trio.
On Railroad Street, a white patrol car made a quick U-turn, then eased up to the curb. A pair of officers stepped out to speak with a young man who was walking past a weathered brown pickup truck.
Snapped On Cuffs
After exchanging a few words, the lawmen--one a uniformed Corona police officer, the other a plainclothes U.S. Border Patrol agent--snapped cuffs on the young man’s wrists, ushered him into the squad car’s back seat and drove the few blocks back to the Corona City Jail.
A block away, another patrol car braked in the rocky shoulder across the road, kicking up a cloud of dust around the three men who would be arrested within minutes.
Most passers-by didn’t seem to notice the swarm of Corona police cars buzzing up and down Railroad Street, a thoroughfare that runs through the city’s growing industrial area, as well as its most dilapidated barrio.
A group of workers at one business said they had seen a few police cars but didn’t realize a sweep for aliens was under way.
“They already got ours a couple of weeks ago,” one worker quipped.
When the sweep concluded early Thursday evening, those arrested were taken in pale-green vans to the Border Patrol station in Temecula.
At a southeast Corona soccer field, officers interrupted a scrimmage and picked up half a dozen suspects, including three teen-age boys.
“They’re taking my uncle away,” cried Judy Gonzalez, 7, as the tears flowed from her brown eyes. “We live here.”
“I go to school over there,” the girl said, pointing down the street to Stallings Elementary School as another uncle--looking frustrated after an extended discussion about residency papers with a Border Patrol agent--scooped her up in his arms.
In the crowded booking room of the Corona police station, Sgt. Rick Goldman called out to other officers, seeking someone with a knowledge of Spanish to fill out a booking sheet with an arrestee unable to speak English.
Hearing no response, he turned to another suspect, waiting in handcuffs for his own booking. “You speak English?” the sergeant asked.
“Yes, a little,” the man responded as he entered the booking cell.
“What’s your name?”
“Como se llama?” the handcuffed suspect translated for the sergeant.
Border Patrol agents, trained to spot “someone who appears to be an alien,” have little difficulty identifying an illegal alien from a casual conversation, said Jeff Wolstenholme, senior Border Patrol agent and supervisor of the Corona sweep.
‘Enough Illegals Out There’
“He (the agent) is going to know the guy looks like an alien or sounds like an alien,” Wolstenholme said. “And there’s enough illegals out there that they don’t have to pick up questionable ones.”
Local officials believe that such sweeps help prevent Corona from becoming a major center of alien smuggling and thus reduce crime committed by--and against--illegal immigrants.
“Our policy is to cooperate with the (Immigration and Naturalization Service), the Border Patrol specifically,” said Corona Police Chief John Cleghorn. “We work directly with them in programs related to the illegal alien problem.
The Police Department cautions both its own officers and Border Patrol officers “to use maximum community relations in carrying out their role,” Cleghorn said. “We want people treated properly and we want them to avoid--let’s say, to mitigate--situations, as opposed to aggravating situations. . . . We’ve had no complaints from the community. . . .
“Our objective isn’t just to get rid of illegal aliens,” Cleghorn said. “It’s to protect them and our citizens.”