Thursday, February 1, 2007

Immigration agents arrest dozens in Charleston area

The Post and Courier

A sweep of Charleston and other South Carolina coastal areas netted dozens of illegal immigrants, including a man wanted in Mexico for murder, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

The two-day operation concluded Wednesday, drawing in 38 people from Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and China, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said. The effort targeted people illegally in the country who have been convicted of other crimes as well as people who ignored previous deportation orders.

"Some of these people had prior criminal convictions that included DUI, burglary and drug charges," Rocha said.

The tally included other immigration violators, such as those who entered the U.S. without permission or overstayed their visas. ICE identified the murder suspect as Patricio Cruz-Renteria, 32. Further details, including where he was living, were not available.

The detentions were part of Operation Return to Sender, which led to 750 arrests in southern California earlier this month and 13,000 throughout the country since June.

Local suspects were held at the Charleston County Detention Center. They will be taken to Atlanta and Charlotte, where they will have court hearings if they request them.

A local advocate for the Latino community said her phone has been ringing off the hook since the raids began Tuesday. Diana Salazar questioned whether the arrests were meant to intimidate the Hispanic community. She also heard reports that numerous agents had shown up to arrest one or two people, and wondered why such a show of force was necessary.

Rocha said the raids did not target specific groups or nationalities. While conducting other operations, ICE has the right to detain anybody who is in violation of U.S. immigration law, he said.

Salazar said Latinos in the Charleston area incorporated a nonprofit group last weekend to defend their rights and fight for respect. She is president of the new Latinos Association of Charleston. "They're not leaving," she said. "They have American children and they're contributing to the economy. That's how they see it."