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Migrant Workers Wary of Sheriff’s Plea to Report Crimes

Times Staff Writer

Migrant workers in Poway expressed skepticism Tuesday about a flyer passed out by San Diego County Sheriff’s Department deputies encouraging them to report crimes without fear of retribution by law enforcement officials or the Border Patrol.

The Spanish-language flyer, which deputies began distributing last week, says, “Remember . . . we are not immigration agents” and assures migrants that their legal or illegal status will be immaterial when reporting a crime.

The flyer asks migrants to help deputies foster “better relations with the Hispanic community,” but several workers said they remain distrustful of the sheriff. They said distrust was heightened by the controversial roundup in April by deputies and Border Patrol agents of 83 migrants for questioning after an alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl in Poway.

About 40 of the aliens were eventually turned over to the Border Patrol and deported.

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The rape investigation led to the arrest of six suspects who were jailed for two months. The six were released when prosecutors decided to drop the charges against them.

Prosecutors never explained their reversal and charges of racism were leveled at the authorities by critics of the sweep, but the charge was hotly denied at the time by Sgt. Steve Wood of the Poway sheriff’s station.

Almost seven months after the roundup, Wood said that deputies are sincere in their efforts to “build a foundation” of trust with the migrants in order to get them to report crimes. The flyer, which was written by Sheriff’s Detective Sal Navarro, is the best way to begin building that trust, he added.

“We got some feedback that there were farm workers in the area being victimized and they were afraid to contact the Sheriff’s Department. We wanted to advise them that we are more than happy to deal with the problems they have,” Wood said. Most migrants are victimized by other aliens, he added.

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However, Irwin Palacios, a Nicaraguan native who works at a restaurant frequented by migrants, said he is suspicious of the deputies’ motives and added that he would not act on the flyer’s recommendations.

“One of my friends was arrested and charged with the rape that never occurred. He said that he was treated very badly and threatened by the deputies. The deputies are always stopping us and harassing us for no apparent reason. After all this, do you think that any of us would be dumb enough to call the sheriff for help?” said Palacios.

Others Agreed

Two other Hispanic men who work with Palacios at the Las Hadas Mexican restaurant at Twin Peaks and Espola roads nodded in agreement. “The sheriff’s deputies are not really our friends,” said one.

Wood said he is aware of the apprehension that migrants have when dealing with law enforcement officials.

“That’s a big concern for us. We have to try to get them to overcome their fear and apprehension. . . . The majority of migrants we have up here are very moral, likable people. You got a few bad ones who are preying on the good ones. . . . We’ve got to gain their trust and let them know this is not a ploy. We mean what we say. We’ve got everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing this,” Wood said.

Sheriff’s officials said deputies will distribute the flyers in businesses frequented by migrants. But owners of several businesses patronized by the workers said they had not seen the flyers. Several migrants contacted by a reporter said they had not heard of the flyer.


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