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Joint Police-Border Patrol Crackdown Draws Fire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of Latino community groups Monday blasted the joint San Diego police-Border Patrol crackdown on crime in the downtown area and Gaslamp Quarter, while the Police Department released statistics to show that the new program is working.

Police said the joint patrols began last Thursday and announced that officers will now be allowed to detain and turn over to the Border Patrol illegal immigrants who are stopped for questioning.

The move represents a change in the Police Department’s 6-year-old policy, which forbade officers from detaining illegal immigrants for the Border Patrol.

Chief Bob Burgreen said the crackdown was prompted by a rise in violent crime and calls from downtown merchants for police to do something about drug dealing and other street crime. Although Border Patrol agents and police are working in conjunction, they will not conduct joint patrols, Burgreen said.

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According to Burgreen, the Border Patrol was asked to participate in the anti-crime drive because police figures show that 29% of all persons arrested downtown from January to June were undocumented aliens.

Jorge Hinojosa, spokesman for the American Friends Service Committee, warned that the Border Patrol’s involvement in the program could backfire on local police. The committee is an immigrant rights advocate and was one of three groups that called a press conference in Golden Hill to protest the police action.

Because of the department’s policy change, illegal immigrants who are crime victims or witnesses will now be hesitant to report violent crimes for fear of being turned over to the Border Patrol and deported, Hinojosa said.

“When police ask anything that has to do with immigration they’re overstepping their bounds . . . . Apparently, they’re breaking their policy and changing their policy,” Hinojosa said.

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Police Capt. George Saldamando said that he did not think the crackdown will deter illegal immigrants from contacting police when they witness a crime or become crime victims.

“It won’t happen. We’re strictly focusing on criminals,” Saldamando said. “We encourage people to contact us, whether they are undocumented or documented . . . . In order for this to work, we have to be very sensitive about how we go about it. One officer who picks somebody up solely because of the color of his skin can ruin it for all of us. We stress this point every day at lineup.”

He said that, from Thursday to Sunday, the first four days of the program, police made 14 felony arrests and 129 misdemeanor arrests. Officers also questioned 178 people and took 43 people to detoxification centers, Saldamando said.

Border Patrol agents picked up 182 suspected undocumented immigrants during the same period. Border Patrol spokesman Michael Gregg said that each person who was detained was determined to be in the country illegally.

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Hinojosa said that his group’s research has shown that, overall, 52% of the people detained or questioned by Border Patrol agents are actually legal residents.

Other participants at Monday’s press conference complained that the downtown crackdown amounted to nothing more than “continued harassment” of the Latino community.

“It looks like we have more brown-scare hype . . . . They’re stopping crime by arresting people who look a certain way or dress a certain way,” said Paul Aceves, of the Centro Aztlan organization.

Police said the crackdown will continue for two weeks and then be evaluated. Sixteen additional officers who are working overtime have been assigned to the downtown between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m.

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