Border Patrol Arrests Raise Fear Among Laborers
Immigrants avoid going out in public
Elena Gaona and Michael Burge, San Diego Union-Tribune, SignOnSanDiego, Jun. 17
VISTA — It was visibly quieter Tuesday, with fewer men looking for work on street corners, fewer women with strollers on the sidewalks, and business unusually slow at the grocery store and Laundromat.
Recent arrests of illegal immigrants by the Border Patrol have families on edge in North County, and they are staying home more for fear of being caught, many said Tuesday.
Some business owners said they are feeling the pinch from fewer shoppers, and immigrant laborers said it is getting more difficult to look for work.
Workers say they pray before heading out to the streets.
“I’m only out here because I need the work,” said Fernando Martinez, 22, one of about a dozen day laborers lined up along South Santa Fe Avenue outside a Vons grocery store in Vista.
“I think, ‘Gee, is that (the Border Patrol) in the car?’” Martinez said. “And if by the end of the day they didn’t get me, I think, ‘I am free for another day.’”
Martinez said he helps support seven siblings in Mexico.
So far this month, roving Border Patrol agents working mainly in San Bernardino, Riverside and northern San Diego counties have picked up more than 300 illegal immigrants, a Border Patrol spokesman said Monday.
“Every day they’re picking people up,” said a group of workers gathered yesterday in Escondido, speaking almost in unison.
Mexican President Vicente Fox issued a statement Tuesday from Mexico City that said, in part: “I have instructed the minister of Foreign Relations to express our most energetic protest to the departments of state and homeland security for the roundups that our compatriots have been subjected to.”
Day laborers in Escondido no longer line Quince Street between Washington Avenue and Valley Parkway because they fear la migra, the Border Patrol, they said.
Some of them gather instead underneath an awning at the nearby Interfaith Community Services’ day labor hiring center. They said the shade inside a private property might give them slight protection.
“Nobody can go outside (on the street),” said Ivan Alvarez of Tijuana. “They take you. . . . It’s a big problem.”
Immigrants said Spanish-language television and newspapers alert them daily that agents are picking up a large number of illegal immigrants in Escondido. They also know of friends and family members who have been picked up in Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista.
“They’re making their way down the state,” said a day laborer named Jorge, who did not want to be fully identified for fear of being deported.
Increased fear among families has kept some people from riding buses, shopping or going to church, many immigrants said.
“I shop for my friend Alma because she is afraid to go to El Torito,” a popular Mexican grocery store, said Maria Sosa, 40, an immigrant who is now a U.S. citizen in Vista.
Sosa carries her driver license with her always in case authorities ask her for identification, she said.
“Alma makes a list for me and I get her groceries because she has two daughters and she doesn’t want to be caught,” Sosa said. “She feels like she can’t do anything. It makes me sad.”
Sosa was washing clothes inside a near-empty Laundromat on North Santa Fe Avenue in Vista, where two women doing laundry said the place was unusually empty.
“Usually there are more people here at this hour,” said Marta Alvarez, folding clothes with his 2-year-old son, Jonathan. “But everybody keeps hearing about it on TV, so how can you blame them?”
The conspicuous absences evoke images from the current film “A Day Without a Mexican,” in which California wakes up one day without one-third of its population.
In Carlsbad, Carlos Mendez, 45, a day laborer from Mexico City, said fewer people have shown up to try to find work off El Camino Real near the popular “chicken” market, where he was one of two men looking for work.
The busy street once lined all day with workers is now empty by lunchtime. Workers also stay away between 9 and 10 a.m. Saturday mornings when agents like to stop by, they said.
The men recite the places where friends have been caught by Border Patrol agents recently: “the buses, the swap meet, the store, here.”
Immigrants say the Border Patrol has increased its enforcement presence over the past three months.
Even at the end of the day, workers said they have to be watchful on their way home.
“It’s hide-and-seek,” said Escondido worker Ramiro Solorio-Alvarado.
Workers say Escondido police officers assist the Border Patrol, sometimes summoning agents after detaining people.
Escondido police Lt. David Mankin said police are not helping the Border Patrol round up suspected illegal immigrants.
“Occasionally when we stop somebody and we have a problem with translation, we’ll call the Border Patrol to assist with translation,” Mankin said.
He also said officers will call the Border Patrol after stopping someone and determining he or she is in the country illegally.
The increased patrolling has some businesses taking note.
Estela Gordillo, an assistant manager at El Tigre Foods grocery store in Escondido, said sales have gone down since the Border Patrol increased its enforcement.
“Just this morning we saw them chasing a guy” across the street, Gordillo said.
She said agents have followed two men into the store and arrested them at the deli counter.
“Some of our customers are telling us they don’t want to come” to the store anymore, because they are afraid.