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.”