Nov. 5 2008 12:00 AM

After immigration raids hit Lansing two weeks ago, the Latino community tries to cope.

Video of the ICE raids captured by security cameras at the El Azteco restaurant in East Lansing. (Images courtesy MichiganMessenger.com)



The Rev. Frederick Thelen stood up in the basement cafeteria of the Cristo Rey Catholic Church and reiterated, in Spanish, to the crowd of Latinos seated in the room that if you are arrested or detained by law enforcement, tell them your name, but you don’t have to say anything else — and ask for a lawyer.

Usted tiene el derecho constitucional de permanecer en silencio. Under the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to remain silent.

Cristo Rey held the seminar on Sunday afternoon to reiterate to congregants, most of whom are Latino, and other members of the Latino community the rights of undocumented and non-English speaking workers in this country.

It was just a coincidence that more than two weeks ago the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a wing of the Department of Homeland Security, arrested 64 allegedly illegal immigrants in the Lansing area. “I know God doesn’t favor this,” Maximo Anguiano, an activist in the Latino community, and a former Lansing fire department captain, said of the raids, noting that Sunday’s seminar was scheduled before the raids took place. “We’re all human beings; we all have rights.”

The seminar, which included a presentation on immigrants’ rights by four Thomas M. Cooley Law School students, who are part of the Hispanic Latino Law Society, was particularly relevant: Some at the seminar asked questions that reflected the ICE raids.

One woman asked what Latinos could have done differently during the raids; another asked where in Lansing, or the state, does one find an immigration lawyer? Others asked what constitutes proper identification, and what do you do if your children are in school when you get arrested? How do you get word to the school to tell them what to do with your children? But, if you’re an undocumented worker, and an ICE agent has found you, there’s not much you can do. As Cooley student Gerry Ruiz informed the crowd, jokingly, if you see ICE coming, you should probably flee. Ruiz, echoing Thelen, also said that the best thing for any arrestees to do is remain silent and that you are not even obligated to give your name. Ruiz said that Sunday’s seminar was the first for the Cooley group, but another one may be coming up in January.

Anguiano said that the raids, which took place around the weekend of Oct. 17, have left ripples throughout the Latino community. The raids took place at the El Azteco restaurant in East Lansing and at an apartment building where undocumented workers were living. Anguiano said that a Los Tres Amigos restaurant location was also raided; however, owner Arnulfo Ramirez said that none of his restaurants had been raided.

Anguiano alleged that ICE agents had used illegal tactics in some of the arrests, showing up with an arrest warrant at a home and then taking someone not related to the warrant. He also said that some of those arrested had been picked up off the street, which amounts to racial profiling. Michael Gilhooly, an ICE spokesman in the eastern regional office in Vermont, said that 40 of the 64 arrested were “targets” because they had previously been ordered deported by an immigration judge. The other 14 were determined by ICE officers during the raids to be here illegally.

Gilhooly would only confirm that a raid took place at El Azteco and several residences; he would neither disclose other locations nor whether the public tipped off the agency.

The ICE Web site features a hotline for the public to report suspicious activity. Gilhooly said that the 40 who had previously been ordered deported could be leaving the country fairly quickly, as soon as travel documents are secured with their home countries.

The other 24 are “now in the hands of the immigration court.” The prisoners are afforded some of the same rights as U.S. citizens — they could be granted a bond, they are arraigned and allowed visits and phone calls. However, they are not provided a public defender.

Anguiano reported that some of the families of the arrested are having trouble with communication. In order for a family member to contact a detainee, Anguiano said, they have to mail them money to buy a phone card so that they can call out. A visit in person requires being added to the detainee’s visitor list.

Some of the detainees are being kept at a facility in Hamtramck and some are being held in Battle Creek, Anguiano said. Gilhooly would not confirm this.

Santa Cruz said that he was in New Mexico when the raids took place early on Oct. 19, a Sunday, as his workers were preparing to open the El Azteco on Ann Street in East Lansing. The raids took a toll on his staff, which was shocked by the raid, and impacted his business — one of the men arrested at El Azteco was a cook skilled in nixtimalization, a special method of cooking corn. Another worker had been with Santa Cruz for 18 years.

Santa Cruz says he doesn’t know the immigration status of his employees. But he did say that none are paid under the table. All of his employees are required to provide a Social Security number and fill out tax forms.

Santa Cruz caught the raids on security cameras in his store, the videos of which he provided to the online newspaper, Michigan Messenger. The videos are also available on YouTube.com. The videos show ICE agents walking around and collecting workers. Gilhooly said that during the El Azteco raid, four men who were not targets of the raid fled but were later apprehended.

“These are hard-working people,” Santa Cruz said. “And they were hunted down like animals.”