Inland Empire activists are demanding an investigation of recent allegations that Border Patrol agents based in Riverside were ordered to meet arrest quotas—a direct violation of federal rules. Agents say they were threatened with less desirable work schedules if they failed to meet the quotas.
Officials with the Border Patrol say they are looking into the matter but deny that the agency utilizes quotas as part of its operations.
Immigrant rights groups and critics decry the use of quotes because they say it creates pressure among agents to beef up their arrest numbers by using questionable methods, such as targeting people strictly because they speak Spanish or because they are Latino, or launching raids at sites where day laborers are known to congregate and easy to round up.
“Our concern with the quotas is they give grounds for the violation of basic human rights,” Emilio Amaya, executive director of the nonprofit San Bernardino Community Services Center, tells the IE Weekly. “That’s why it’s a big deal for us.” The center provides legal assistance to immigrants and Latinos.
Over the past few months, the Border Patrol has conducted a number of aggressive raids and identification checks—sometimes with the help of local law enforcement—across the Inland Empire, sweeping targeted residential neighborhoods, bus stops and other sites.
The Border Patrol has described its actions as lawful and part of its assigned responsibilities.
“We are federal immigration officers mandated to enforce immigration laws,” Agent Richard Velez says. “And guess what? We’re doing our job. We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary.”
Velez is a supervisor and spokesman for the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector, which includes the Riverside office. But activists counter and accuse agents of racial profiling; targeting Latinos—whether they be illegal, local residents or citizens—stopping and questioning them. Day laborer sites in Riverside, San Bernardino, Moreno Valley and Lake Elsinore have been raided eight times since December, including one raid on Christmas day, according to Suzanne Foster, executive director of the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center. The Pomona center is the only legally sanctioned place in the city of Pomona for employers to pick up workers.
Amaya said Latinos who are citizens have complained to him about being questioned by agents—who ignored non-Latinos—while boarding a Greyhound bus in San Bernardino.
“We noticed that sometimes they go and question Latinos and let others get off the bus,” he says. “They would stop people that looked Latino and question them and if they were legal, they’d let them go.”
At least 39 people have been arrested during the past few weeks during Border Patrol sweeps in the Inland Empire, officials say. Last month, agents, with help from Riverside Police, apprehended about a dozen suspected illegal immigrants in the Casa Blanca area of the city. On Christmas of 2008, agents made six arrests in San Bernardino.
The recent allegations of Border Patrol quotas further underscore activists’ claims that agents are apprehending people in an effort to increase their arrests rather than for legitimate reasons. Border Patrol agents from the Riverside office last month complained to their union that they were ordered to make 150 arrests in January or risk having their job schedules changed from having weekends off or being forced to work graveyard shifts. Agents allege the January arrest quotas were an increase from the prior quotas for both November and December of 100 arrests.
Velez dismissed the purported quotas but said the agency would investigate.
“These are just allegations right now,” he says. “ . . . I can tell you right now that the Border Patrol has not used and is not planning to use any quotas. That would be detrimental and counterproductive to our mission of securing America’s borders.”
Recently, immigration officials elsewhere have come under fire for allegedly using quotas and going after easy targets rather than dangerous fugitives. In fact, officials with the Immigrantion and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol’s sister agency, allegedly used arrest quotas, which led agents to focus more on arresting people without criminal records or deportation orders against them instead of criminals or terrorists suspects, according to memos uncovered by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Originally ICE agents were required that 75 percent of those they arrested be criminals. Immigration officials subsequently eliminated that requirement. In five years, ICE spent $625 million apprehending 96,000 individuals—three-quarters of which had no criminal convictions.
Demonstrators held a “Stop the Raids” protest march Feb. 7 in downtown Riverside, from City Hall to the Border Patrol office, in response to the quota allegations.
“We are outraged at the systematic persecution of Latinos in Riverside and San Bernardino counties by the Border Patrol,” a bilingual flyer for the protest reads.
Activists hope the protest march will raise awareness about the issue and serve as a front against what they describe as the Border Patrol’s “campaign of intimidation and fear.”
“We want to reassure the community and let them know they’re not alone” Amaya says. “We’re watching and paying attention . . . we’re going to try and change this.”