September 17, 2006

107 deported from Santa Cruz, strikes fear into residents

by Soraya Gutierrez
Deportations foster sense of fear, anguish

The unexpected deportation of a Mexican man who made a living cooking meals for residents of a Live Oak residential care home has shaken staff members, including his wife, who is a caregiver at the center.

The woman and her husband were separated after a 5:30 a.m. immigration sweep at their workplace Friday.

"They showed up abruptly, and said if he tried to come back he would go to jail for 20 years," his wife said in Spanish. One phone call is the only contact she and the pair's three children have had with him since.

The identity of the center and the couple have been withheld in light of a series of sweeps dubbed "Return to Sender" by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week that snared 107 undocumented people from Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Hollister.

The operation has left families and communities uneasy, especially with federal officials saying Wednesday that more sweeps are "very possible" in the region.

"There is a lot of apprehension in the Latino community about the safety of their children," said Ralph Porras, assistant superintendent of Santa Cruz City Schools.

Many undocumented are trying to stay under the radar and some are keeping their children home from school.

The owner of the Live Oak care home that ICE officials visited was among about 50 community members that participated in a public denunciation of last week's sweeps at Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos on Wednesday.

"Questionable laws are being enforced in an inhumane way," said Patrick Conway, Resurrection pastoral associate, at the event organized by the coalition Communities Organized Relational Power in Action. "While we call for legislators to reform immigration laws, we cannot stand by silently while this is being done to our families."

But a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman defended the agency's actions.

"A lot of these people are not good members of our community," spokeswoman Lori Haley said. Of the 107 people arrested, she said, 19 had past criminal convictions, including robbery and assault. The others had various immigration violations.

She said among those taken into custody was Jesus Diaz-Arevallo, a 38-year-old Salvadoran national living in Salinas who had been convicted of being an accessory to murder.

About 90 of those picked up have been deported to their native countries of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and India. The rest await a court hearing before an immigration judge.

Increased immigration sweeps are planned throughout the country as part of continued efforts to shore up the borders, Haley said.

"It's very possible that there will be more," she said.

That leaves county residents seeking advice, and many have turned to Doug Keegan, program director for the Watsonville-based Santa Cruz County Immigration Project, which provides legal services for immigrants such as naturalization, appeals and waivers.

He and other immigrant rights advocates suggest residents look out their windows or ask who is at the door before opening it. Legally, residents do not need to allow anyone inside unless they have a warrant.

Beyond that, Keegan says options are limited for bringing back the deported.

What's happened on the Central Coast in the past week, said the Rev. David Grishaw-Jones of First Congregational Church, has devastated families who work hard and play by the rules.

"We must do so much better than that," he said of the early-morning raids.

An emergency community meeting is planned 5 p.m. Friday at the county Government Building, Ocean and Water streets, to help stop the immigration sweeps. For information, call 212-4466.

Sentinel staff writers Tom Ragan and Matt King contributed to this report.

Contact Soraya Gutierrez at


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