Federal authorities have issued a deportation warrant for Carmen Lima, a leader of two Los Angeles immigrants’ rights groups, in what some Latino leaders term political harassment against the outspoken critic of Immigration and Naturalization Service policies.
Two immigration officers, accompanied by five police officers and housing authority security officers, visited Lima’s home Tuesday night at the Aliso Village public housing project in East Los Angeles.
They did not find Lima or her husband, but the couple claims that several of the officers barged into the house without presenting a search warrant, shining flashlights in the faces of their sleeping children.
Officials contend that they received permission to enter the home from Lima’s mother. They also deny any political motives, contending that the warrants were issued based on information that the couple is in the country illegally.
The information, according to Joseph Thomas, the INS’ Los Angeles district deputy director, includes Lima’s own admission of her illegal status on a nationally broadcast television show last year.
“Is knocking on someone’s door with an administrative warrant for deportation in your hand and talking to the lady who answered the door harassment?” Thomas asked rhetorically.
Antonio Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice charged that the night visit was “an obvious political act of intimidation.”
Lima, 41, a domestic worker who has lived at the project for about 14 years, is president of the Coalition for Visas and Rights of the Undocumented Worker, a group with about 500 members. She also heads a tenants’ group that opposes proposed federal guidelines that would result in the eviction of illegal immigrants from public housing.
Lima is also a leader in her church and a block captain in the Neighborhood Watch.
“She is the backbone of this community,” said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, pastor at Dolores Mission Catholic Church, where prayers were offered for her Wednesday. “She’s helped to galvanize a lot of support for the undocumented, and she’s done a lot to awaken our community to a higher level of concern and social justice.”
Rodriguez said the Limas, accompanied by several community leaders, plan to present themselves at the INS office today to “find out exactly what they want from them.”
Thomas of the INS said officials plan to interview the couple to determine whether to begin a deportation hearing. Deportation could be avoided, he said, if the Limas can show they have lived here for nine years, have U.S. relatives or meet other criteria.