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INS Arrests 43 in Sylmar Raid on Laborers

Times Staff Writer

Federal agents converged Wednesday morning on a Sylmar street corner where day laborers congregate and arrested 43 suspected illegal aliens, authorities said.

The early morning raid at the corner of San Fernando Road and Astoria Street was prompted by recent complaints from nearby residents that crowds of as many as 100 men have impeded traffic, urinated in public, littered and insulted passers-by, said John Brechtel, the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s assistant district director in Los Angeles.

The raid was part of what Brechtel described as “an almost continuous” INS crackdown at San Fernando Valley day-labor sites aimed at driving away both illegal aliens and their employers.

Last month, the INS launched a campaign against employers of day laborers, warning that they will be fined and that their vehicles will be confiscated if they are determined to be transporting and hiring illegal aliens.

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Since early August, Brechtel said, agents have watched day-labor spots in the Valley and have handed out from 150 to 200 pamphlets to employers repeatedly seen hiring workers. The pamphlets explain that federal law prohibits the hiring of undocumented workers, including day laborers.

Could Lose Cars

The Valley’s most popular pickup points are at Canoga Avenue and Vanowen Street in Canoga Park, and at Victory Boulevard and Kester Avenue in Van Nuys, Brechtel said.

“We are warning them,” he said of the employers. “We are telling them if they continue to pick up undocumented workers, they are in jeopardy of losing their cars.”

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Officials of the INS are seeking federal warrants to seize the cars of such employers, Brechtel said. But he declined to say how many employers are named in the warrants and at what locations alleged violations have occurred.

The Victory-Kester site was raided early last month, resulting in the deportation of about 99 men, Brechtel said. But until Wednesday the Sylmar site, which residents say has been a pickup spot for about five years, had never been raided, he said.

“This is the first time this location has come to our attention,” Brechtel said. “We had received a number of complaints from the public that the problems there have been building up.”

All but two of those arrested Wednesday told INS officials that they are Mexican nationals, Brechtel said. Two men said they were from Guatemala, he said. Three men were released when they showed proof that they have applied for citizenship under 1986 immigration law, which grants amnesty to illegal aliens who have lived continuously in the United States since 1981.

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Most of those arrested waived court deportation hearings, opting instead for voluntary deportation to Mexico, Brechtel said. They were to be bused to the border Wednesday night, he said.

When 15 INS agents in sedans and two vans arrived at the site about 7:30 a.m., most of the about 50 men standing at the corner attempted to flee, Brechtel said. No fights broke out, and no injuries were reported during the arrests, he said.

The Sylmar residents’ complaints echo those of others who live near pickup points.

“Our yards are being used as trash cans and urinals. Women are harassed,” said Ernest Greenwood, a 6-year resident of Paddock Street, a block from the day-labor pickup spot.

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Several residents said the fact that many men gather at the Sylmar corner, near a construction materials firm, prompted them to send a petition to the INS asking for patrols in the neighborhood.


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