Responding to complaints from residents, business owners and police, immigration agents arrested 156 undocumented dayworkers Wednesday as they waited for jobs at two known labor pickup points in Orange and Costa Mesa, officials said.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 140 Mexican nationals who were unable to produce legal residency documents in a 6:30 a.m. sweep on Chapman Avenue near Hewes Street in Orange, officials for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said.
In Costa Mesa 1 1/2 hours later, INS agents arrested 16 people, none of whom had residency papers, at Lion’s Park.
The park is near the Costa Mesa Job Center, which opened in October as a hiring hall for eligible dayworkers. The park may be the site of future sweeps, INS officials said, because the center attracts undocumented workers who congregate nearby hoping to find work.
Residents and business owners have complained about day laborers at both locations and have sought legislation to ban curb-side hiring. The Costa Mesa Job Center was created to keep workers from congregating in the streets.
Border Patrol and INS agents have frequently raided both areas in Costa Mesa and Orange over the past year.
In Orange, the Hewes Street intersection also was part of a milelong stretch of East Chapman Avenue that was the focus of a crackdown on day laborers by police last March. Officers routinely stopped motorists and pedestrians for minor infractions such as littering, jaywalking and driving without seat belts. Those who could not provide proof of citizenship or immigration papers were turned over to the INS for deportation.
That crackdown prompted protests by Latino and human rights activists, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, and eventually was halted by the Orange Police Department after city officials said it led to a reduction of crime in the area.
Last September, a Border Patrol sweep of the same area in Orange provoked a storm of criticism after an agent chased two men into a nearby Catholic Church where Mass was in progress and arrested 7 undocumented immigrants. INS officials later announced that agents would not pursue suspected illegal aliens into churches without receiving permission from both their own supervisor and church representatives.
INS officials said Wednesday’s sweeps were prompted by complaints of residents around the sites that the workers harass people, block business entrances and urinate in public.
But a Latino rights advocate said he believes that authorities exaggerate both the number and the severity of complaints, and that they are not verified by arrest records.
“We suspect that those (complaints) are merely (typical) responses,” ones that INS officials routinely repeat to justify such raids, said Amin David, president of Los Amigos, an Orange County association supporting Latino rights. He described the raids as ineffective attempts to “take vengeance on the Latinos.”
David said the raids, which have increased throughout Southern California in the past few weeks, are not a solution to the political and economic problems that cause Mexican nationals to seek refuge here.
“The people will continue to come over if they are hungry and need to feed their families,” he said. “What we’ve done so far hasn’t worked. We need to try some other methods.”
Broadening eligibility for amnesty and developing a plan to help rebuild the Mexican economy were among David’s suggestions.
All 156 workers were taken to the San Clemente INS checkpoint, where they could leave the United States voluntarily or request deportation hearings before an immigration judge.