INS Undeterred by Businessmen’s Call for Halt to Sweeps
Sweeps for undocumented residents will continue despite calls for a moratorium from downtown Santa Ana businessmen, Harold Ezell, Western regional director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Thursday.
The appeal for a moratorium came from about 40 downtown businessmen who formed a coalition at a Wednesday night meeting. Sweeps in Santa Ana Monday and Tuesday left the usually bustling downtown area of the city looking like a “ghost town,” one city official noted.
Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), speaking at a press conference in Santa Ana Thursday, said he supports the group’s call for a moratorium pending the President’s signing of an immigration reform bill. The law would give amnesty to undocumented residents who arrived in the United States before 1982.
“What does he (Ezell) hope to accomplish by picking up people who are on the paper path to citizenship?” said Dornan, adding that he observed how understaffed the INS was on a recent trip to the border. “So I wonder, where does he get all the personnel for these raids?”
But Ezell defended the raids and said “99%" of the people arrested this week would not have qualified for the amnesty because they had been in the country less than a year. INS spokesman Joe Flanders said 184 people were picked up in Santa Ana this week. In addition, a raid Wednesday in Laguna Niguel netted another 87 arrests.
“The vast majority of business owners and citizens of Santa Ana not only support this but have demanded that INS remove illegal aliens from the community,” Ezell said. “These disgruntled business owners (who) cater to illegal aliens are, in my opinion, a small minority in Santa Ana. The only thing this group will accomplish is to polarize the community of Santa Ana. The only reason these greedy owners are speaking out now is because they don’t like to see their profits decline. . . . The success of their business is because of illegal aliens who by law should not be in this country.”
Ezell denied a statement by Dornan that the INS director had told him during the border tour that the raids were “counterproductive.” Dornan’s comments, Ezell said, “are absolutely ludicrous. These are the same illegals he watched firsthand a few weeks ago enter the country. Now they’re in the interior, and we’re making a second attempt to remove them.”
The downtown businessmen said the raids had robbed them of their livelihood because not only undocumented residents but citizens were afraid to shop in the area because of harassment. Alan Kunski, who organized the meeting at his Main Street furniture store, said the agents had harassed anyone who looked Latino, adding that it is often difficult to prove citizenship.
“We’re looking at this (the call for a moratorium) as a humanistic effort,” he said. “We’re making a living off their business. Now it’s our turn to say, ‘We’re here and we’re going to support you.’ ”
Kunski said the group would send at least 100 telegrams each to President Reagan, Dornan, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), and na tional INS Director Alan Nelson.
Roger Kooi, director of Santa Ana’s Downtown Development Commission, said he witnessed Tuesday’s raids and saw the plainclothes agents take an entire family into custody. He said he alerted police that there would probably be abandoned vehicles on the streets for a few days so they could be lenient about distributing parking tickets.
Kooi said he called Police Chief Raymond C. Davis, who has a policy of not assisting INS agents, but Davis said there was nothing the city could do unless the INS was violating the law. Kooi said the raids had turned downtown into “a ghost town. You can tell the difference. Usually our streets are full.”
An Oct. 20 letter from Vice Mayor P. Lee Johnson was evidence of sentiment in the city for INS sweeps, Ezell said. The letter thanked Ezell for a recent raid at 1st and Euclid streets, a “pickup point” where undocumented workers gather to seek jobs from passers-by.
Crime Surge Mentioned
The letter cites numerous complaints about the pickup points from residents and business owners and adds that “Santa Ana, like other cities in Orange County and Southern California, has a large illegal alien population and as a result, we are all experiencing sharp upsurges in violent crime, drug trafficking and the like.”
Johnson declined comment Thursday on the raids. However, he argued that his letter referred only to raids on the job pickup points, not to sweeps of downtown. Santa Ana police officials in the past have said that statistics do not support charges that illegals are disproportionately involved in criminal activity.
Some residents said Thursday that they were angered by the call for a moratorium and that they still support INS operations in Santa Ana.
Mike Sokolski, a former member of the downtown Santa Ana Businessmen’s Assn. (separate from the coalition), said he ripped his “Vote for Dornan” sign off his front lawn after reading about the congressman’s statements. Sokolski cited statistics in the city police association’s newsletter linking undocumented immigrants to about half of all crimes against persons in the city.
Sokolski said he and about 400 other residents signed a letter sent to the President and other elected officials calling for some action to stem the flow of immigrants into the city. During his eight years in Santa Ana, the influx has caused a “gradual deterioration of the city,” he said.
‘Basically Against Sweeps’
But others decried the sweeps, echoing Dornan’s statement that the INS should concentrate its efforts on stopping the tide at the border.
Rabbi Henri Front, chairman of the the Orange County Human Relations Commission, noted that the sweeps sometimes round up citizens along with the undocumented due to skin color and looks.
The commission “is basically against the sweeps,” Front said.
“As a Jew, I take a personal view of it because I remember the sweeps of Jews in Nazi Germany. . . . This strikes terror in my life personally,” he said.
Front said he believes that the immigrants give more to U.S. society than they receive. He called for the INS to spend more time on the border and in investigating people who lie on citizenship papers.
Although Ezell said he would be willing to meet with the businessmen and Dornan, he said he plans to go on with business as usual. “If I’m invited to meet with them, I’d be happy to,” he said. “But I’m not coming to a bash-the-INS meeting.”