Ridge Will Probe Immigration Sweep
Joshua L. Weinstein, Press Herald Online (Portland, Maine), Feb. 10
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday he will investigate a January immigration sweep in Portland that sparked significant local criticism because armed agents targeted the Preble Street Resource Center homeless shelter and minority-owned businesses.
He made the commitment under questioning from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who represents Maine and who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees Ridge’s department.
During a Senate hearing on the department’s budget Monday morning, Collins said “we want the department to vigorously enforce our immigration laws,” but told Ridge, “we had many, many serious complaints from community leaders that the way in which this sweep was conducted created a great deal of fear among immigrants who are here legally. And the agents went to a homeless shelter. They targeted Latino, Asian and African restaurants which then experienced a dramatic drop in business throughout this period.
“And there just seems to me that there has to be a better way for the department to pursue its very important responsibilities and . . . to make sure that these sweeps are conducted in a way that is respectful of people and that do not target small business in a way that ends up hurting their business.”
Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe, also a Republican, wrote to Ridge about the same matter on Feb. 6.
On Monday, Ridge was not familiar with the details of the Jan. 24 immigration sweep.
He told Collins, however, “I would say hopefully if men and women and children are here legally, that they have nothing to fear and shouldn’t fear . . . We don’t want to discourage the border patrol from doing their job. We also want to encourage them to do it in a way that is consistent with the standards of service of the border control, and that’s respecting the rights of individuals, be they legal or illegal, and the rights of the community.”
The sweep resulted in 10 arrests, but provoked outrage in Portland, where some elected officials and community leaders questioned the tactics of some agents.
Mark Swann, the executive director of Preble Street Resource Center, said agents walked into the shelter and targeted four Latino men out of a room of 100.
The men all were in the nation legally-one was born here-but, Swann said, they were “pulled out of the shelter, questioned vigorously and intimidated tremendously.”
He said “it is great that our senators from Maine have taken note of this and are trying to be heard in Washington about what’s going on in this community.”
Juan Gonzalez, who owns La Bodega Latina in Portland, said he never questioned the border patrol’s job-just the way the sweep was performed.
“They were profiling,” he said. “By the senator taking this to the top, discussing this with Ridge, definitely gives us more confidence now saying, ‘Yes, indeed, Maine is a state where immigrants are welcome.’”