- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

More than 150 suspected illegal aliens have been arrested by the Border Patrol in a sweep of newly created “interior checkpoints,” including bus stops, in several Southern California communities, signaling a change in the agency’s immigration enforcement strategy.

The sweeps, which began last week and are scheduled to continue indefinitely not only in California but in Texas and other areas of the Southwest, targeted illegal aliens — mostly Mexican nationals — at public locations in communities as far as 100 miles north of the border.

The arrests are in sharp contrast to a long-standing Border Patrol enforcement strategy that saw agents stationed exclusively along the U.S.-Mexico border and at nearby highway checkpoints as a deterrence to illegal immigration.

Officials at the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional in Ontario, Calif., said the arrests have caused concern in Southern California’s Hispanic community and accused the Border Patrol of racial profiling. Some Hispanic groups have begun warning illegal aliens on what areas to avoid to keep from being arrested.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who oversees the Border Patrol, in August overturned an order by the agency’s sector chief in San Diego directing agents not to arrest illegal aliens on city streets or to question them except along the border.

Mr. Bonner, who has given the Border Patrol a front-line role in the nation’s war against terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, illegal aliens and illicit narcotics, ordered Chief William T. Veal to recall an Aug. 8 memo ordering his 1,600 agents to make arrests only along the U.S.-Mexico border or at highway checkpoints.

Chief Veal, who has since retired, issued the memo after protests from the Mexican Consulate over the arrests in San Diego of illegal aliens seeking to obtain Mexican identification cards.

Mr. Bonner said the Veal order was “overly broad and restrictive” and should be rescinded. He has since directed the Border Patrol to review its enforcement policies nationwide and, last month, named Tucson sector Chief David Aguilar, considered an aggressive enforcement proponent, to head the Border Patrol.

Traveling in California yesterday, Mr. Bonner was unavailable for comment. But CBP spokesman Mario Villarreal said in a statement that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is committed to preserving the integrity of our nation’s border” and that interior checkpoints — like those in California — were a “critical enforcement tool to our priority mission.”

Federal law-enforcement authorities said the arrests this week came as the result of intelligence operations by the Border Patrol that identified locations in Southern California where suspected illegal aliens were believed to gather, including bus depots and other public facilities.

Much of the information, the authorities said, came from local residents and from state and local police agencies. Churches, schools and individual homes have not been targeted.

Border Patrol agents in San Diego had questioned whether Chief Veal had issued a lawful command and whether they should abide by it — particularly in view of the fact that many Border Patrol supervisors were instructing the line agents to disregard the order.

Chief Veal, whose San Diego sector includes more than 7,000 square miles along 66 miles of international boundary with Mexico, said in his memo that the future of Border Patrol operations was dependent on the elimination of the perception that agents were conducting neighborhood sweeps.

The memo prohibited agents from initiating arrests in cities, residential areas, near workplaces and locations where day laborers gathered, and from making arrests while driving to their assignments. It also described the agents’ main priority as the “maximum containment” of illegal immigration at the border and preventing terrorists from entering the country.

The Veal order said the enforcement of immigration laws away from the border was the responsibility of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The order followed the Aug. 2 arrest by the Border Patrol of five members of a Mexican family outside the Mexican Consulate near downtown San Diego, all of whom were returned to Mexico. The five were en route to the consulate to apply for matricula consular cards, an identification card issued by the Mexican government to its citizens living in this country.

Deputy Consul General Javier Diaz met with Chief Veal to protest the arrests, while Mexican Consul General Rodulfo Figueroa issued a statement saying he was astonished by the arrests because of their proximity to his office.

The FBI has called the cards an unreliable form of identification. FBI officials recently told a Senate committee they posed a criminal and terrorist threat and were easy to obtain through fraud and a lack of adequate security measures by the Mexican government.

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