April 27, 2006

Illegal immigrants anxious after raids.

Byline: Bryon Okada, and Diane Smith

Apr. 27--As a result of a major immigration sting last week, the federal government and the media are being swamped with calls asking about raids across the country, including in Fort Worth -- even though no random raids are being conducted.

One such call sent Star-Telegram reporters scrambling Tuesday night to the Fiesta supermarket near the Fort Worth Stockyards.

No raid had taken place, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. But the fact that the report occurred is not surprising, they said. "There's panic in the streets that there are vans in the Wal-Mart parking lot," Dallas ICE spokesman Carl Rusnock said.

"We've been swamped with calls ever since the operations." He said the ICE field office in Chicago received 80 calls Monday.

Last week, in the wake of national protests about a proposed overhaul of immigration laws, ICE arrested 1,187 illegal immigrants in 26 states, including Texas.

Seven managers of IFCO Systems North America, a Houston-based pallet services company, were also arrested. More than half the company's employees had falsified Social Security numbers, ICE officials said. The managers, charged with conspiring to help undocumented workers falsify their identities to further the company's interests, face up to 10 years in federal prison.

The IFCO bust was an isolated operation and part of a strategy to target egregious offenders,

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and ICE head Julie Myers said in a statement.

In fact, the IFCO operation was an involved investigation that began in February 2005 and, therefore, was not in response to the protests, Rusnock said. The overall priority of immigration enforcement is to catch criminal aliens.

Of the 160,700 people deported in fiscal 2005, 84,300 had rap sheets, according to ICE statistics. As for the others, "Anyone who is in this country illegally runs the risk of being located, identified, arrested, detained and deported," Rusnock said. Meanwhile, a heightened sense of fear has permeated Spanish-speaking immigrant communities.

In her rural Texas community, one illegal immigrant -- who asked not to be identified because she fears being detained -- said authorities have reportedly been making the rounds. The rumor is that agents are looking for single men or people with outstanding warrants.

"No one has papers in my house except my son, who was just born," she said. "Everyone knows everyone -- they know we are here, and we can't do nothing." Hispanic media sources have been getting calls, officials said.

Omar Romero, brand manager for Spanish-language radio station KEGL/97.1 FM "La Preciosa" in Dallas, said listeners have been calling constantly for the past two weeks trying to find out where immigration raids might take place -- or to report seeing one.

"People are very scared. People are scared to pick up their kids from school. People are scared to go shopping. Now they're even scared to go to work," Romero said. The station estimates that its listeners are about 75 percent immigrants.

HELP FOR FAMILIES San Antonio may help the families of illegal immigrants arrested in raids. Imelda Lopez's husband was deported to Mexico after an immigration raid at IFCO Systems. 16B Thousands of Central Americans are holding out hope that immigration law will change soon. They are delaying renewal of permits that allow them to live in the U.S. temporarily. 4B Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison oppose the Senate immigration plan. 11A ------------

Bryon Okada, (817) 390-7752 okada@star-telegram.com

Copyright (c) 2006, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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