[As one who has taught innumerable brilliant immigrants at a port of entry college, I am constantly appalled by the stereotyping and abuses of immigrants whose reports one must receive almost first hand to believe,  given the paucity of reporting such as that below on our gulag activities — yes, we had one in Brooklyn where immigrants — many legitimate refugee applicants from tyrannical countries — were covertly held and brutalized.   Others were students trying to update their visas — even one of our finest teachers was threatened with expulsion mid semester due to bureaucratic delays.  Needless to say our immigrants are among our hardest workers and most productive contributors to our American life and economy at all levels — from picking fruits and vegetables to doing high tech things for which we seem unable to train and educate our own citizens.  I recall once seeing a population density comparison of Britain and the U.S. — we had only 1/20 the inhabitants  as the Brits per square mile!   So presumably we have plenty of room for people with the courage and true grit to get themselves here and situated.  Let not attacks on immigrants be the Republicans’ latest racist hit bit!

The report below is a NY Times article passed along from ImmigrantRightsList@afsc.org — an American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)  report on immigrant support activities.

Ed Kent]


April 10, 2007
U.S. Raid on an Immigrant Household Deepens Anger and Mistrust

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. – Awakened by banging on the front door and the
shouts of strangers inside her family’s sprawling suburban home, Erica
Leon, 12, thought at first that the house was on fire.

Then her bedroom door burst open, she said, and armed men in blue
bulletproof vests pushed in, demanding to know if she was hiding
someone. They pressed on to the room where 4-year-old Carson was asleep
with their mother, and pulled off the covers.

“They started screaming at my mom real bad,” Erica said. “I wasn’t
crying, but I was, like, terrified. Like, who are you guys?”

They were federal immigration agents hunting for an illegal immigrant –
Erica’s long-absent father, Patrizio Wilson Garcia, who was ordered
deported after his 2003 divorce from Erica’s mother, Adriana, and has
not lived in the house since. But they had entered a three-generation
immigrant household where everyone was an American citizen by
naturalization or birth.

To the Leon family, Hispanics who have owned their house here on Copeces
Lane for seven years, the early-morning raid on Feb. 20 seemed like the
ultimate indignity in a history of hostile scrutiny. But to some
residents, it was an overdue response by federal authorities to
long-simmering concerns about illegal immigration on Long Island’s East
Since 2000, neighbors’ complaints about the family’s volleyball games,
their many cars, their living arrangements, even the fallen tree limbs
in their yard, have prompted more than 18 inspections by town code
enforcers and repeated surveillance by the town police, records show.
Often officials found nothing to cite; occasionally they issued notices
of violations that ended in court fines. Typically, the Leons complied
with official demands, only to face fresh complaints.

Federal immigration officials would not say what had prompted the raid,
which swept into four other East Hampton houses and rounded up three
dozen illegal immigrants. But the operation had nothing to do with town
code enforcement, the officials said, or with Steve Levy, the Suffolk
County executive, who has won national attention by vowing to move
against illegal immigrants the federal government ignores.

They also said Erica’s grandmother let them in, providing consent for a
search that others in the household could not legally stop.

Residents on both sides see the raid – the first in recent memory in
this wealthy beachfront community – as the latest escalation in a wave
of crackdowns driven by complaints against immigrants at every level of
government. And it points to a sense of frustration in both camps that
is making Suffolk County one of the hotbeds of the nation’s immigration

“People here are fed up,” said Richard Herrlin, a neighbor of the Leons’
who welcomed the raid and described himself as a builder of $20 million
mansions. “It’s possible the feds showed up because the town officials
have done nothing for years, because the town is terrified of being
accused of racial insensitivity.”

For him and some others in the neighborhood, where large wooded lots and
winding roads bring to mind rural New England, irritation over what they
described as the Leons’ noise, trash and traffic has fed on deeper anger
over an influx of Hispanic illegal immigrants on the East End. There are
festering grievances about taxes, schools crowded with Spanish speakers
and homes turned into rooming houses.

For the Leons and other immigrant families, meanwhile, confusion over
what civil rights, if any, apply in such raids heightens new feelings of

“Your house is supposed to be where you’re safe, right?” said Andres
Leon, 22, Erica’s uncle. “When you see police, you’re supposed to feel
protected. But the way they acted, we don’t feel protected; we feel
Ms. Leon, now remarried, had even obtained an order of protection
against Mr. Garcia before their divorce ended his temporary legal status
and led to the deportation order.

In a strange twist, that became the legal basis for a Fugitive
Operations team of seven agents to bang on the Leons’ door at 5 a.m.

Like the family’s American life, the house, on 3.8 acres in a
middle-class section, is still a work in progress. But it is now valued
at about $1 million, nearly four times what the Leons paid for it in
2000, before they added 70 percent more finished space, step by step,
with earnings from housecleaning, carpentry and a home beauty salon.

The first to arrive in the United States, more than 25 years ago, was
Ramon Leon, who works as a cabinetmaker for Central Kitchen Corporation
in Southampton. It took him years to win permanent residency under the
1986 immigration amnesty, and years more to bring his wife, Elena, and
three children – Adriana, Jazmin and Andres – to join him legally. Erica
and her little sister had to be left behind in Ecuador for seven years
and joined their mother only three years ago. The household now
comprises six adults and five children.

By the spring of 2002, neighbors were complaining that two volleyball
courts built by the Leons had become the site of large, sometimes
raucous sporting events that drew dozens of people.

All over East Hampton, such games were a flashpoint between longtime
residents and Latino immigrants, whose numbers were soaring. And the
clashes fueled resentments that helped elect local politicians who
promised to crack down on illegal immigrants or “quality of life”

Despite complaints and petitions, officials were unable to shut down the
games. At the Leons’, for example, the East Hampton police reported no
violations after surveillance over a three-day weekend in 2002 found 15
to 40 people, most of them playing volleyball; 20 vehicles “all
registered and legally parked”; and “very little noise.”
But the games had stopped by 2004, after Adriana, 30, married Norman
Aguilar, who took over his father-in-law’s share of the mortgage. “I
don’t want any problems,” said Mr. Aguilar, who was born in Costa Rica
and is a manager at a newspaper distribution company, as well as an
agent for a financial services company, Primerica. “I just want to live
in peace.”

By then, however, neighborhood complaints seemed to have a life of their
own. When Jazmin Leon opened her one-chair home beauty salon – allowed
under the residential code – neighbors tried to shut it down over the
scissors sign seen through the picture window. When Mr. Aguilar painted
a rock white, a neighbor produced town surveys to show that it jutted
over his property line by three or four inches.

“My wife wanted to sell the house,” Mr. Aguilar said. “I told her no,
anywhere you go, you’ll have the same problems. I feel like for us it’s,
like, getting harder in this town. The laws that they’re putting on us,
it’s, like, against Hispanic people.”

Some residents say the town does not enforce codes the same way against
city people in time shares, or houses crowded with Irish summer workers.

“Profiling is not about who you raid, it’s who you don’t raid – who gets
the winks and who gets the handcuffs,” said Amado Ortiz, 60, an
American-born architect who joined the board of OLA, a Latino immigrant
advocacy group, after being “radicalized,” he said, by an increasingly
anti-Hispanic climate.

William E. McGintee, the town supervisor, dismissed such complaints of
bias as “nonsense.”

“We don’t have a large influx of illegal immigrants from Russia,” he
said. “We have Ecuadoreans, we have Peruvians, we have Mexicans. We
don’t know who is living in those houses; we get complaints, and it’s
But the limited effect of such complaints only heightens the frustration
of residents like Lucinda Murphy, a registered nurse who volunteered
that she and her husband, Sean, a television news producer, had often
called the police about cars parked at the Leons’.

Ms. Murphy, who has three children, voiced larger misgivings about
illegal immigrants with children in the local school. She called them

“I’m paying taxes, they’re not,” she said. “Yet their kids still get to
go to school with the privileges of my kids. I resent it.”

City dwellers with weekend houses on Copeces Lane have also complained
about the Leons, upset that property values could be hurt by the
less-upscale Latinos, said Richard Dunn, 65, an East Hampton teacher.

“This is a town that’s driven by money and real estate,” he said.
“People who are so concerned about Latinos feel they’re being driven

His own house is cleaned by Adriana Leon and her mother. “I have nothing
but good feelings for them,” he said.
On the morning of the raid, Mr. Aguilar, 40, had already left for work.
He returned to find the shaken family reading the Bible together in the

For a time, the house became a gathering place for immigrants rounded up
at other houses that morning, who were mostly released with notices to
appear at deportation proceedings. Their accounts of the raids
galvanized a group of local clergy, Hispanic activists and even a
religious organization based in Costa Rica that flew in counselors.

“It would appear that in the war against terrorism, agents of our nation
are now acting in the role of terrorizers,” the group of local clergy,
East End Clergy Concerned, wrote their congressman in a letter asking
for an investigation.
Mr. Aguilar tried to file a complaint about the raid with the town
police but was rebuffed. “We don’t conduct investigations on another law
enforcement agency,” Todd Sarris, the chief of police, explained.

Nor was the raid a mistake, said Christopher Shanahan, director of
deportation and removal for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the
New York region.

“We would like to find fugitive aliens at 100 percent of the locations
we go to, but it’s not an exact science,” he said.

No records are kept to show how often the teams find the fugitives they
are seeking. And the rules for the searches are murky.

Unlike a criminal search warrant, which requires a judge to review the
evidence and find probable cause for a search, the “administrative
warrant” used by immigration agents is approved only by the team’s
supervisor – and is valid only with the consent of the occupants, Mr.
Shanahan said.

But in what he described as standard practice, that consent bears little
resemblance to what laymen or constitutional scholars expect. Once
Erica’s grandmother let agents over the threshold, Mr. Shanahan said,
there was no turning back.
“Due to officer safety needs, they can look into other areas, to clear
rooms,” he said. But he added: “If officers did something to humiliate
people, I want to know about it. We are very adamant that we want our
officers to be professional.”

On a recent afternoon, back from a seventh-grade civics lesson on the
separation of powers, Erica spoke about what had changed since the raid.

“My mom wanted me to sleep in her room so I wouldn’t be scared,” she
said. “Sometimes, we have heard, they take parents away from the
children, or they take children from the parents.”

When the agents left, she remembered, “they said they might come back.”
American Friends Service Committee welcomes you to share any information you have on LOCAL immigrant and refugee-related news, events, related position openings and volunteer needs (ie. interpreters, translators, visitors for detainees) in New York and New Jersey.

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“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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