Sweeping Up the Aliens
This article originally appeared in the issue of February 5, 1977.
A trial that will begin on March 8 in Tucson, Ariz. may have far-reaching political and legal consequences throughout the United States. It stems from an incident that took place last April 9 in the Chicano barrio of westside Tucson. On that day, ten uniformed officers of the U.S. Border Patrol, accompanied by a U.S. Attorney and a Tucson police officer, entered the offices of the Manzo Area Council, a federally funded social service center, and announced that they were going to impound all the files containing data about the immigrant status of the people the center served.
Ms. Margo Cowan, the 27-year-old director of the center, shook her head with incredulity and asked William Vogel, the U.S. Attorney, "You are going to do what?" Vogel produced a search warrant, warning Cowan that, unless she unlocked the door to her office, the officers would kick it down. Within an hour, despite vigorous protests from the director and her staff, the border patrolmen had seized more than 800 files, most of which dealt with senior citizen and youth programs unrelated to the immigration services offered at the center. The implications of this dubious exercise of authority touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of the foreign born now living in this country, raise questions about the thousands of agencies that exist to advise them, and may well affect the disposition of legislation awaiting action by the new Congress.
A few weeks after the Manzo raid, the Border Patrol began a house-to-house sweep for undocumented immigrants, basing their moves on the papers they had acquired from Ms. Cowan's office. She and her assistants have reported that between 150 and 200 people were arrested and deported in the next few months, all of them former clients at the Manzo center. And since then, several other former clients have disappeared. They, too, said Cowan, were probably deported.
Then, in late October, a grand jury charged Cowan and her assistants with twenty-seven counts, ranging, from transporting illegal aliens and aiding aliens to elude inspection, to entering false statements, perjury and conspiracy: Cowan was charged on all counts, incurring a possible maximum penalty of seventy-seven years in prison and a $98,000 fine. Also charged was Cathy Montano, 20 (thirteen counts), Margie Ramirez, 22 (twelve counts) and Sister Ann Gabriel Marciacq of the St. Joseph of Carondolet (three counts).
Ms. Cowan, a former United Farm Worker organizer who speaks fluent Spanish, said that harassment by federal authorities began several months before the raid, when Manzo organizers sought to represent a client, Edgardo Mendivil. "Edgardo was close to legalizing his status when he was arrested near his place of employment. We represented him at his hearing, asking that the charges be dropped and that he be put on docket control [house arrest] until his appointment date with the American Embassy in Mexico. The request was denied and he got ninety days in jail."
The excuse for the raid, said Cowan, were allegations that she and her staff were breaking the law by helping undocumented immigrants to receive welfare and food stamps. "The truth is, they couldn't find anything," she said, "not even a technicality we might have been guilty of transgressing." One of the indictments charges her with transporting Alicia Marquez, 15 years old and pregnant, from Manzo to a juvenile Court judge so that she could get permission to marry the U.S. citizen who was the father of her unborn child. "This is true," continued Cowan. "She needed the permission in order to legalize her status. But the...question is, is it the intent of the law to prohibit transporting people for gain and eluding inspection; or is it to be carried to the point where it prevents people from receiving supportive services they need to legalize their status?'
Immediately after the raid, Cowan and her staff sought the help of Robert Hooker, a Tucson lawyer, who asked a federal judge to order the confiscated property returned. The judge denied the request, announcing that the status of the people under investigation had yet to be determined. The case is now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Subsequently, several Manzo clients filed a class-action suit against the U.S. Attorney, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Border Patrol, charging them with illegal entry, illegal search and seizure, illegal questioning of clients, and improper deportation procedures.
As for the motives behind the raid, Cowan, along with other directors of community action agencies, believes that it is part of an attempt by the INS to weaken the advocacy process on behalf of undocumented immigrants throughout the United States. A few days after the raid, the Manzo defendants held a press conference and charged that the immediate purpose of the raid was not to investigate an immigration, counseling service but to gather up more than 400 people who lacked documents and ship them out of the country without due process of law.
Cowan believes that Tucson was singled out because it is a conservative area with weak community organization. "Initially," she said, "we weren't able to put up much resistance against this kind of attack. People were scared at first, but the aftereffects were like a tidal wave. Groups as widely diverse as the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce and the more militant Raza Unida Party came together in support of the defendants.
"The way our people have been treated by the Border Patrol in the past few years has done a lot to politicize the community. People are continually living in fear and. waiting for raids in the middle of the night. There have been cases of mothers deported while six or seven of their minor children stayed with relatives and neighbors."
Crucial to the defense in the Manzo case is the sanctity of the client-counselor relationship. Since the raid in April, few undocumented immigrants have dared to come to the center for assistance, knowing that their files might be confiscated by the Border Patrol and used against them in deportation hearings. The case also raises the question of how.' the term "illegal" should be used. "Illegal aliens," an opprobrious designation, is applied indiscriminately by the press. "We think that 'illegal' is a demeaning word," Margo Cowan said, "and more than that it is very shallow. Most of our clients have never been to a deportation hearing, nor have they had their status defined. They find themselves without documents, but they do not find themselves in an illegal status, technically speaking. This is at the heart of' our defense."
She added an urgent footnote. "Furthermore, 20 percent of our clients are U.S.-born, but can't prove it. Some of them are forced to live in Sonora, Mexico, until they can prove their U.S. citizenship. We are saying that people are not here illegally until they have been adjudicated in some kind of hearing or court of law."
The Manzo Area Council has served its constituents in southern Arizona and northern Sonora for ten-years, but became involved in immigration counseling only a year and a half ago, when the Border Patrol became more aggressive in the Tucson area, waiting outside churches and stalking people at laundromats and schools. Cowan and her staff, untrained in immigration counseling, then toured the Southwest, visiting other centers and seeking advice from attorneys and community workers in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities. They eventually, drafted a proposal for federal funds which stipulated that they would be doing immigration counseling with two goals in mind: explaining to people without resources that they could not immigrate, and providing a comprehensive program for those able to immigrate by helping them fill out applications, gather documents and accompanying them to their appointments. Once their program was underway, they began to attract the unfriendly attention of the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and that led to the April 9th raid.
The implications of the Manzo case are far-reaching, since thousands of agencies, attorneys and counselors offer such services from coast to coast. In addition, Cowan, and her assistants are receiving letters from schoolteachers, public health nurses, nutritionists and other agency personnel, asking if they, too, will have to check their clients' immigrant status before giving an injection, a free lunch or rendering any other services.
On November 26 the Los Angeles Times published a strong editorial referring to the prosecution of the Manzo 4 as "bad business." It said that the stated purpose of the raid was to uncover evidence that the counselors were helping aliens make illegal claims for welfare and food stamps. "But apparently," the Times continued, ''no such evidence was forthcoming. We are left to speculate whether a red-faced Border Patrol then may have sought to cover its embarrassment by going to court to "challenge the whole premise of counseling for illegal aliens."
The editorial also referred to the contradictions of federal law which punished those who counsel undocumented immigrants while ignoring those who exploit them, such as employers, merchants and unscrupulous landlords. "The respect for the system of justice can only be eroded by efforts to deny counsel to those who seek it," concluded the Times.
Meanwhile, the Manzo defendants are taking their case to the public, arranging speaking engagements and fund-raisers, and devising a strategy that will include a top-level meeting between sympathetic members of Congress and Griffin B. Bell, the newly appointed U.S. Attorney General, asking the latter to drop the charges and to curb the repressive practices of the INS which have grown to alarming proportions during the Nixon and Ford administrations.
Many observers of immigration law and procedures see the Manzo case as a recurrence of the periodic cycle of repression and scapegoating that is felt whenever the country is beset by economic crisis and inflation. While the raids continue in factories and Hispanic neighborhoods throughout the country (a soccer game and theatre were recently raided in Washington, D.C., with more than 100 arrests), several stringent immigration bills are now before Congress. The most comprehensive bill, H.R. 16188, sponsored by Rep. Peter W. Rodino, (D., N.J.) passed in the House on September 12, 1972 but is still pending in the Senate. It provides three steps before serious measures are taken against employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The employer is given two warnings for hiring the workers; if he violates the law a third time, he is subject to a $1,000 fine and/or one year in prison for each undocumented immigrant.
This bill, heavily supported by the AFL-CIO executive board, has met strong opposition from Chicano civil rights groups, who claim that putting the burden on the employer to discover the immigrant status of a worker can only diminish the civil rights of all Americans, especially those of Hispanic descent.
Another bill, by Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D., Pa.) was signed by President Ford on October 20, minutes before the termination of a ten-day period after which it would have received a pocket (automatic) veto. The Eilberg bill, pending in the House for years, had passed once, but was rejected by the Senate because of protests from Chicano and Latino groups. This time, in order to assure its passage, it was held in committee until the day before the 94th Congress adjourned, then sent to the full House as a noncontroversial measure and rushed through the Senate with no opportunity for debate or discussion.
Normally, the bill would have gone to the immigration committee of the Senate, but Sen. James O. Eastland (D., Miss.) asked that it be held at the desk by Speaker. Then, at the last moment, Eaktland asked that the bill be passed by common consent, since it simply "cleaned up a few routine immigration matters."
The "routine" immigration matters Eastland referred to included cutting immigration quotas from Mexico by 60 per cent. Even though the new legislation imposes on the Western Hemisphere the same quotas as have beenused for the Eastern Hemisphere, it allots 25 per cent fewer visas to the Western Hemisphere. Under its terms the parents of U.S. citizens and parents of immigrants would no longer qualiiy for visas. The Senator has also introduced a bill of his own which seeks to reintroduce the controversial 1bracero program. Braceros are Mexican workers imported to the United States under contract to work for specified periods of time. A Chicano aide to President Ford has said that Eastland agreed to assure passage of Eilberg's measure if the latter helped him get his own (bracero) bill through the House in the coming session. A previous attempt to extend the bracero program was defeated in the late 1960s by the combined efforts of churches and labor unions. Promoted by the agriculturaI bloc in Congress, of which Eastland is a prominent figure, the program is an economic boon to growers, since the workers can be paid substandard wages and herded into camps, many of them unsanitary to the point of being health hazards. Though the Eastland bill might legalize the presence of hundreds of thousands of otherwise undocumented field workers, it would not stop the exploitation and would continue to thwart union drives to organize farm workers from both the United States and Mexico. "cleaned up a few routine immigration matters." Now the question that arises is whether President Carter will support the present trend for more restrictionist immigration laws and practices. Bert Corona, a long-time Chicano activist, says Carter may have his hands tied, since he was elected with the support of the AFL-CIO and of Senator Eastland's forces in the South. Much will depend on the advisers Carter chooses to guide his immigration policies. One of his strongest supporters, Sen. Alan Cranston (D., Calif.), has said he will urge Carter 'to appoint persons of "real knowledge and deep sensitivity" to positions of authority in the Immigration Service and other agencies dealing with immigrants. Such persons will be needed when the trial of the Manzo 4 begins on March 8, for it will be a major test case for those who counsel and aid the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants seeking legal status in the United States. But the implications of thc Manzo case go even deeper. Recently a prominent civil liberties attorney wrote to the defendants, offering the "It is a chilling reminder that the knock on the door in the middle of the night is still a very real threat to all freedom-loving Americans."