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No Border Patrol raids are being conducted in the Central Valley, a federal official said Tuesday.
Robbers may be impersonating Border Patrol agents, said Don Riding, who heads the Fresno office of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Riding spoke Tuesday before about 150 people attending a meeting of the Modesto nonprofit organization El Concilio. The audience included lawyers and social service workers. He was invited to speak because rumors of raids have been sweeping through communities that have illegal immigrant populations.
“We’ve received hundreds of calls from people who are terrified,” said Jose Rodriguez, El Concilio’s executive director.
Callers had heard rumors of men in white vans stopping Latino workers and shoppers, asking for proof of legal residency.
“It’s a shame people would go out and pretend to be immigration officers, and shake them down for money,” Riding said.
The Border Patrol has not carried out immigration raids in the Central Valley for years, he said. There have been recent raids in Southern California near the Mexican border.
No one from the government is going to conduct raids because an immigrant is working illegally in Northern California, he said.
“No one has to live in fear,” said Riding.
The Border Patrol offices in Northern California are shutting down this summer.
“The reason the Border Patrol was in Northern California was to do farm and ranch (enforcement),” Riding said, noting that a 1986 law gave farmers protection against raids that could take their workers.
The law, he said, bars agents from going on farm property without the owner’s consent or a warrant signed by a judge.
In the Central Valley, Riding said, illegal immigrants are not likely to encounter the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they get in trouble with the law.
There is no money for raids on illegal immigrants who are not engaged in crime, Riding said.
“Homeland Security is short of money, to the point that they’re releasing illegal aliens from jail who are criminals,” he said.
That may be oversimplified, said Scott Brown, a supervisory agent for customs enforcement.
Noncitizens who finish their jail or prison terms are turned over to customs enforcement to await deportation hearings.
The agency rents bed space from county jails, Brown said. But with jail beds in short supply, some of the immigrants are free on bond.
“They are all being processed,” Brown said.
(Posted on July 29, 2004)