AZ Day Laborers Arrested By Border Patrol

What a fucked up story this is. None of these people should be here in the first place and each and every one of them need to be deported.

Arizona Daily Star

Tensions are rising in a neighborhood where border crossers who gather on a street corner south of Downtown to be hired for the day mix with dope dealers, alcoholics and thieves. Neighbors - including Southside Presbyterian Church, home base of the No More Deaths border activists - have complained to police about the day laborers.

Those complaints culminated in the arrest of 20 illegal border crossers by U.S. Border Patrol agents at South Ninth Avenue and East 23rd Street on Monday. Such operations by the Border Patrol are rare in the area.

This South Side neighborhood is a popular pickup spot for employers who want cheap manual labor. Carlos Cervantes, who crossed illegally from Empalme, Sonora, six months ago, says the street corner was his first destination when he arrived.

He earns $8 an hour working for landscaping companies that pick up workers every morning starting at 5:30 a.m.

Cervantes says he doesn’t deal in drugs, doesn’t urinate on the street corner - he just wants a job.

‘Why is wanting to work a crime?’ he asked, standing on the corner, his hands bunched in his pockets in the cold morning air.

Cornelio Lopez has lived at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 23rd Street for 13 years.

He paused from pitchforking a pile of mesquite branches off his driveway to watch a group of six day laborers run up to an approaching car. The car slowed when they neared, then drove away. The men returned to the street corner.

‘The ones that come at 6 and leave at 7 aren’t a problem. It’s the ones that stay later, whistling at women, leaving garbage, sleeping in the alleys. They’re a nuisance,’ Lopez said.

Tucson police received several calls last month about the day laborers and vagrants, said Capt. Tom McNally. In turn, police alerted the Border Patrol to an illegal-migrant problem.

McNally said police decided to call the Border Patrol for help because the people who complained, including church officials, told them the problems were caused by illegal border crossers.

‘It always seems that for political reasons, we always back away from that. In this particular instance, we had to do something,'’ McNally said.

But the call from police is being criticized.

Tucson police will not stop and interview someone based only on a suspicion that the person is here illegally, said Sgt. Mark Robinson.

But Tucson-based Derechos Humanos argues that by calling the Border Patrol to alert them to the day laborers, police did exactly that.

‘This could happen to anybody. Does that mean that anybody can make an assessment that you’re undocumented and the police are going to act on it?’ said Derechos Humanos organizer Kat Rodriguez.

Part of the problem is simply identifying who’s who. Rodriguez said a day labor center would at least keep prospective workers separate from the vagrants.

‘You don’t know which one is looking for work and which one is going to cause problems,’ said Al Sarmiento, who runs a shower program for the homeless at Southside Presbyterian.

The courtyard of the church was crowded with homeless, some to use the showers, others sipping coffee and eating honeydew melon. In the parking lot, still more mixed with illegal border crossers, some of whom were looking for work.

To ease tensions in the community, the church has been working with day labor center organizers in Phoenix to open a center on its property. But that project, which was supposed to break ground in October, is now scheduled to open in January and may not open at all.

Sarmiento said he was angry, and that ‘Sometimes I have second thoughts about opening the center.’

Thursday, someone stole boxes of food that Samaritan Patrol volunteers had left at the church after returning from distributing boxes to illegal border crossers in the desert, Sarmiento said.

Illegal border crossers have even used the church’s flat roof as a camping spot, he said.

‘We have people looking for jobs but we also have people that are drinking and dealing drugs around here,’ Sarmiento said.

On Monday, the Border Patrol used plainclothes agents to pick up the day laborers, said Jose Garza, a spokesman for the agency’s Tucson Sector.

Twenty people were picked up, he said. Three Tucson police officers backed up the federal agents.

Jesus Alvarado Flores says he was among those picked up but was released after he showed his border crossing card [a permisso?] to the agents.

Flores gave this account:

At about 6 a.m., a pair of agents pulled up in an un-marked truck pretending to look for workers. Five men took their offer for work, Flores among them. They were deposited in a parking lot and detained by a uniformed agent. A second truck brought five more men, then two loads more for a total of 20 men.

‘They pushed us to the ground and had their guns drawn,’ said Flores, who feels the agency overreacted to what was essentially just illegal border crossers.

The Mexican Consulate in Tucson received complaints that the apprehension was a ’setup,’ said spokesman Oscar Angulo. ‘But we are not sure about that.’

Garza refused requests for details about how the arrest was handled.

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