Immigrant communities in Southern California and New York City are reporting hundreds of immigrants arrested in a series of sweeps in recent weeks.

Rev. Arnoldo Abelardo of La Placita Church in Los Angeles told the New York Times that Border Patrol officers were randomly stopping Latinos in the street and demanding their immigration papers. Over 300 Mexican and Central Americans, “suspected of being illegal immigrants,” were arrested June 4 and 5, most in the inland working class towns of Ontario and Corona, more than a hundred miles from the Mexican border. Fear has spread through these communities, with people staying home, afraid to go to work, to shop, or to let their children go to school.

The raids were conducted by a team of 12 agents out of the Temecula office of the U.S. Border Patrol, according to a report in the Riverside Press Enterprise. The Border Patrol, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, has recently received a major infusion of funding and personnel. People who are stopped by the Border Patrol have a Fourth Amendment right to walk away, BP spokesman Sean Isham told the Press Enterprise. But “if you decide not to talk and it generates suspicion,” the agent could detain a person to check his or her record, he said.

Meanwhile, in New York City, state agents cooperated with the INS to round up 150 immigrants and turn them over to federal authorities for deportation, according to Bryan Lonegan, from the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Unit. Unsuspecting immigrants with arrest records were sent to York County Prison in Pennsylvania after being summoned by their parole officers.

Juan Peguero, had a green card and was no longer on parole when his parole officer called one evening to verify his home and work addresses. The next morning at dawn, immigration agents came to the door to detain him. Peguero has six children. His partner Greicy Rodriguez stated, “The kids don’t know where their daddy is. I told them that he had an emergency in the Dominican Republic and he would come back soon, but really, I don’t know if they will ever see their father again.”

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A reader’s eyewitness report: ‘We call for a stop to these raids’

ONTARIO, Calif. – We have friends who have voiced their fear to step outside their homes since hearing about the raids. For this reason, when I was informed of this demonstration in Ontario by a friend who had read the announcement in La Opinion we traveled 30 miles to join many others at the corner of Euclid and C Streets. There we saw a few hundred people, mostly Latino, gathered with placards calling for a stop on the raids. These same placards also displayed the names of two local businesses which had paid for the printing.

It was announced that we had to march on the sidewalk because there was no permit to march on the street. So two-by-two or -three we began marching, while passing cars honked in support of our efforts and cause. We continued to march for 6.7 miles, passing through the Ontario, Montclair and Pomona communities, where residents spontaneously joined the march. Also, unexpectedly, at some car dealerships the dealers honked the car horns. The Ontario Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the halfway mark handed out bottles of water. Showing support for our cause, other members of the community went out and bought cases of water to hand out as the marchers passed. By the end of the march we now were several thousand strong, and there was about a mile long line of cars that were honking along side the marchers.

The same coalition of churches, local merchants and several Latino organizations from the Inland Empire who had previously joined together to fight for the issuance of drivers licenses organized the march to call an end to the INS raids that have occurred within the last two weeks in Rancho Cucamonga, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Paramount. As a result of these raids, the detainees are being deported back to their home countries, and families are being split up.

At the end of the march a few people briefly pointed out that today we showed the INS we were not afraid and that we call for a stop to these raids. There was also a call for Bush to stop his do-nothing rhetoric, if he really wants the Latino vote. And how his most recent legislative proposals will not change the current status of undocumented workers.

– Heraclio Cabral