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Anxiety rises among Valley immigrants

The constant fear of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement roundup is as real as ever for local undocumented workers.

One DUI checkpoint is all it takes for many people working illegally to be sent on a quick trip out of the United States. One Ashland man, whose name was not released at the request of his wife who feared deportation, entered the Jackson County Jail two weeks ago only to be swept into ICE custody shortly thereafter. After a quick background check, he was taken in and transferred to the organization’s regional office in Tacoma, Wash., where he awaits likely deportation.

The man had been in the country seven years. His wife and two U.S.-born children remain here in the Valley. Under a Senate bill that was shot down recently, he would have possibly been able to work toward eventual citizenship if it were not for the drunken driving offense.

Secret methods

Lori Haley, spokeswoman for the western regional ICE office, said the organization has a variety of ways of investigating possible undocumented people. Sources with the local office said revealing the manner in which the organization gets information about people would jeopardize its ability to catch illegals.

“ICE is an investigative organization,” Haley said. “We focus on criminal cases, but we can investigate anyone who may be in the country illegally.”

ICE procedures and connections with local law enforcement are even hidden from local attorneys.

“It’s a mystery to us as well,” local deputy district attorney Ginger Greer said. “All of a sudden, ICE will show up and take away our defendant.”

Local, regional and national defense attorneys said scooping up immigrants once they enter the legal system is happening constantly. Some of the tactics used cause concern.

Teuta Norman, an immigration attorney with Hecht and Smith law offices in Eugene, said the likely answer lies in the connection between local courts and the federal agency.

“What is happening is that ICE is checking with the court system every day,” Norman said. “They can place a hold and then take them into custody.”

Norman said she sees a constant pattern of criminal cases where individuals will be asked if they have papers. When they say no, they are taken into custody.

“One guy was walking with a criminal defense attorney, and they asked if he had papers,” Norman said. “Once they say ‘no,’ that’s the end of the story.”

Manuel Rios, a Seattle attorney who works with the Mexican consulate, said undocumented criminals have the right not to speak with ICE, but many are intimidated into doing so. All law enforcement agencies are also required under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations treaty to notify individuals that they have the right to contact their consulate after being taken into custody. Rios said he thinks local law enforcement agencies are generally very good about notifying foreigners of their rights, but federal ones may not be as strict with their practices. Because ICE has limited resources, he said, finding people in jail is the easiest way to deport undocumented people.

“They’re just trolling the jails and looking for people with Hispanic surnames,” Rios said. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Activism against illegals

What Rios calls racial profiling, Berkely, Calif., activist Brenda Walker would call necessary to expel undocumented criminals from the United States.

Walker edits a Web site called www.immigrationshumancost.org. She writes articles and collects statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving that showcase the amount of deaths caused by undocumented drunk drivers. Her Web site showcases victims and criminals and makes connections between illegal immigrants and drunk driving accidents. The site also exhibits other criminals who entered the county illegally.

“It’s a cultural thing in Mexico (drunk driving),” Walker said. “You want to be a macho guy who throws back 20 beers, then you go out and kill someone.”

Walker said because many undocumented workers live in young male environments where drinking is a huge part of their lifestyle. She said she is often frustrated with the media for only showing the sympathetic side of the issue that portrays undocumented workers as the struggling, downtrodden part of society.

“The other side is how slow the government has been to respond,” Walker said. “Drunk driving really requires deportation.”

Deportation is what the aforementioned immigrant will likely receive. If he pays a $7,000 fine, he may be able to leave the country without serving more jail time. His family will likely go with him. For people like Walker, this would be one step closer to solving the country’s immigration problem. For local immigrants, it is one more case of a working man getting pushed out for making a mistake.

Congress continues to deliberate this week what the United States will do with its illegal immigrants. Those here in Ashland are waiting with baited breath. One man, who declined an interview with the Tidings because he fears his reputation in the community would reveal his identity to ICE, said he had been here working and paying taxes for 16 years and was never able to obtain a work visa. He said that while some Anglos really accept immigrants for the work they do in the community, the underlying tensions of late have made his family, and many others, even afraid to go to WinCo for fear of the ICE.

Staff writer Alan Panebaker can be reached at 482-3456 x 227 or apanebaker@dailytidings.com.

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