Immigration agents apprehended 37 illegal immigrants in separate raids near a dayworker pickup site Tuesday, triggering strong criticism from local officials who complained that the raids undermined the city’s policy of encouraging the workers to gather there.
Four immigration agents apprehended the men, all Mexican nationals, as part of a sweep through Laguna Beach and El Toro. More than a dozen of the men, who had congregated on Laguna Canyon Road at a pickup site sanctioned by the city, were taken into custody. Some of the men had tried to escape by climbing aboard a city bus, said Ron Rogers, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Rogers said all 37 waived their right to a hearing and agreed to be voluntarily deported to Mexico.
A group of men who tried to escape by climbing aboard a city bus were taken off the bus by agents, said Ron Rogers, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Rogers said all 37 waived their right to a hearing and agreed to be voluntarily deported to Mexico.
City officials immediately denounced the raid, which they said took them by surprise.
Unlike other cities in Orange County that have called on INS agents to clear their streets of illegal aliens, Laguna Beach has gone out of its way to find a suitable pickup site for the workers.
“We send these people down there and all of a sudden the INS makes a sweep,” Police Chief Neil Purcell said Wednesday. Purcell noted that sporadic raids would make dayworkers scatter to spots throughout the city instead of remaining in one central area.
“If the INS doesn’t come back for weeks or months, it doesn’t do anything anyway except make our problems worse down here,” he said.
Just three weeks ago, the City Council agreed to spend nearly $9,000 to make the site safer for workers and motorists. After Tuesday’s raid, officials fear that the dayworkers may leave Laguna Canyon Road and filter into residential neighborhoods.
Shortly before the 10:30 a.m. sweep, a police officer had instructed several dayworkers soliciting jobs on Coast Highway to move to the site on Laguna Canyon Road, Purcell said. The city has discouraged the workers from gathering on Coast Highway because of complaints from residents. Now, officials fear, their credibility may be irreparably damaged.
“We’d been slowly making some progress, trying to build up this trust and rapport with the dayworkers,” said Purcell. “Now when we tell them to go out there, they’re going to say, ‘No, you’re just trying to get us out there so they can sweep us up.’ ”
INS officials have no obligation to give local law enforcement agencies advance warning of raids. However, they do not routinely check for green cards at pickup sites that have been designated by the city, Rogers said.
“I don’t believe they (Laguna Beach officials) have designated a site. If they have, they haven’t told us,” Rogers said. “It’s just like we tell L.A.: We’re not going to go in there and make raids at your hiring halls, but beware, your employers must abide by the law” by verifying that the employee has a green card (work permit).
However, Laguna Beach officials said they had a tacit agreement with the INS. Although agents have been in town several times, Tuesday’s sweep was the first on Laguna Canyon Road, officials said.
“I was very disappointed because it’s not a solution to this complex social problem,” said Mayor Robert F. Gentry. “I could understand if there was a lot of illegal activity, but what you’ve got basically is a group of young men trying to eke out a living to support their families. I understand the charge of the INS, but they are disrupting what we’ve done.”
Immigrant-rights activists were also critical of the sweep.
“I think the INS is feeding into very strong anti-immigrant sentiments,” said Father Jaime Soto, Episcopal vicar for the Hispanic community for the Catholic Diocese of Orange County. “Whether it be in Laguna or (wherever) it is disruptive to the efforts of the communities who are trying to address the needs of their residents.”
Charles Wheeler, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based National Center for Immigrants Rights’ Inc., agreed.
“Frankly, the thing that concerns me is they (agents) are going into an area that has been designated by the city, who in turn is trying to remedy the problem with day laborers trying to secure part-time work,” Wheeler said. “I can’t help but wonder if in the end, they will really solve any problem.”