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PLATFORM : Cruel and Vicious ‘Community Development’

<i> MSGR. JAIME SOTO of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange commented on the tactics of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during a raid on Sept. 18 in which about 170 illegal immigrants were apprehended in an apartment complex in Orange. He told The Times:</i>

What kind of sentiments could have propelled the city of Orange and INS officials to resort to the contrived and coldhearted application of the law that was inflicted upon Latino residents of the city last Wednesday? It will be remembered as but another chapter in that cruel collusion which dismisses as expedient the lives of people whose only offense is a yearning to work and better their conditions.

We cannot ignore the circumstances which the Latino immigrant community must endure. Overcrowding, ethnic conflicts, depressed wages, the lack of education and orientation about life in this country also contribute to what are frustrating and tense environments. There have been constructive attempts to address the problems experienced in many of the aforementioned communities. Yet Wednesday witnessed a crude and vicious new form of community development. Terrorizing neighborhoods, intimidating households, frightening children. Upon whose scales will these actions be weighed?

Some have portrayed this an effort to improve the community. What an absurdly harsh irony are such efforts when it is carried out against residents who are sending their children to school, going to work, many paying taxes on their wages, on their rent, on the products they buy. These individuals are frustrated and harassed in their earnest and strenuous attempt to build a dream, to shake off the nightmare of poverty and exploitation.

Three years ago this kind of “community sweep” violated the sacred space of La Purisima Catholic Church. Parishioners and the general community were horrified that federal officials would put aside any vestige of decorum in commonly acknowledged sacred spaces such as a church. On that occasion federal officials entered the church and while the sacred Mass was being celebrated they questioned and detained a handful of individuals. The same sense of sacredness must hold true for the home and for the family.

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The laws of immigration being what they are, is there not any sense of horror about families being separated? Is not the public conscience disturbed by a young child waiting for her mother who might never come, that the affections of a family, already tested by a trying existence, must suffer the fears of being ensnared into the random chaos and despair of deportation.

Some justify this raid as plain and simple “law enforcement.” I question whether these invasive and extreme tactics are proportional to the alleged offenses. The rights of some of the Orange residents may well have been swept aside in the hysteria of the assault.

The lack of low-cost housing in the county, the cutbacks in education, the reduction public health services, and most grievously, the failure of political leadership to address these issues will only exacerbate the situation found in many cities across the county.

How tragically shortsighted is the notion that the deportation of people will atone for these public transgressions.

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