Let's suppose these were your kids . . .
The Arizona Republic 
Apr. 20, 2004 12:00 AM

O. Ricardo Pimentel columnist 

Let's say your family is vacationing in Rocky Point.

The local Mexican police recognize your unruly children, 12 and 13, as younger versions of those they see way too much of during Spring Break.

Mexican immigration authorities just happen along and deliver them to the border, without parents.

This is pretty much what we did recently to at least eight Mexican kids who live in the Palomino area of Phoenix. The youngest was 12. We profiled and then deported them.

Yes, we allowed the kids to call their parents, and agents even talked to the parents over the phone.

Oh, yes. These kids allegedly knew gang signs and were hanging out in a group at a party. Unfortunately, this describes a lot of Latino youths who are, in fact, not gang members. But let's say that these Palomino kids were. OK, prove it. Charge them with gang offenses. Otherwise, we have a slippery slope here that renders any Latino kid with the right garb as fair game for roundup.

The incident started as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, in the company of another ICE employee, was on his way to interview an alleged gang member, apparently about his immigration status. This according to Russell Ahr, an ICE spokesman, who added that this agent worked with a Valley gang task force.

The agent stopped to give assistance at what appeared to be a Phoenix Police Department traffic stop. He discovered the youth he was seeking in the stopped car, in front of a house where a party was happening.

A Phoenix police spokesman, whose agency has jurisdiction over Palomino, said ICE agents don't patrol with police officers. A Department of Public Safety spokesman, whose agency runs the state gang task force, said, the immigration agent threw on a vest he had in his trunk and on the back was a Velcro label that said "state gang task force."

But he really had no connection to DPS or its anti-gang efforts. The agent, he said, did not realize the Velcro label was still on the vest. It turns out ICE hasn't had much of a role in DPS' anti-gang activities since the program was downsized because of funding cuts.

So, immigration agents don't really work hand in glove with local law enforcement on the street. OK, but in what started as a local police action and allegedly wasn't an immigration roundup, 10 youths were, in fact, rounded up and deported.

The city of Phoenix has now promised Latino activists that they will investigate the incident.

Ahr said the parents were free to pick up their children. He added, however, that if the parents didn't have the proper documents, they would have been assigned a date with a judge to discuss their own deportations. This was not freedom to pick up their children.

Ahr said his agency could not discern that any of its own rules or procedures were violated.

The Mexican Consulate was advised of the detentions, was allowed to interview the kids and signed the proper forms. Unfortunately, it apparently wasn't told when the kids would be transported to the border, after their overnight stay in ICE's central facility in Phoenix.

The kids were shepherded through a specific gate at the border, opened by a Mexican officer who, it now appears, did not know they were coming.

Let's look at the many red flags here.

If the relationship between ICE and local law enforcement is as close as this incident makes it appear, this significantly erases incentive for many immigrants to cooperate with police. Folks in the Palomino neighborhood have particular cause to wonder.

Two youngsters, here legally, were detained in this roundup, though eventually let go. So, if I'm brown and wearing drooping, baggy pants, am I at risk of roundup?

We deported kids - who really had no say in where they live - and forcibly separated them from their parents.

But the biggest problem? Ahr is probably right: ICE was legally entitled to do all of this stuff. And this is the scariest, most dreadful item of all.

Last week, a well-known Latino activist, Ana Lizabeth Roman de Harvey, consulted her moral compass. After delivering clothes to two of the deported youths, she allowed the brothers, one 20 and the other a juvenile, into her trunk to get them back across the border.

She was caught and faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. When she appears before the judge, let's hope he can discern the difference between acting from avarice and acting from the dictates of heart and conscience.

Reach Pimentel at
ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Home Page     Events and Information   Awards&Scholarships   AABE NEWS 2004      News( 2003)       News(2002)       Publications      Board_Information     Board Contact     Goals      Feedback     Research Links     Links