Big crowd learns about raids
More than 125 Latino immigrants attended a meeting Saturday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church to learn what to do when confronted with possible deportation.
Illegal immigrants were advised to be leery of alleged officials who offer to help them stay in the United States illegally.
"A lot of our families have gotten caught up in that and now they’re facing deportation," said Tony Yapias, director of the group Proyecto Latino De Utah.
Oftentimes lawyers take advantage of illegal immigrants who are desperate to keep their families in America, he added.
"Before you hire one talk to several, shop around," Yapias warned. "You could spend $10,000 for nothing. We’re trying to educate our community to be smart and not get caught up in the moment of desperation to be double victimized."
After federal agents arrested several Park City men on immigration-related charges April 20, advocates organized the meeting to teach immigrants how to respond when officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) come knocking.
Those at the meeting were given pamphlets showing ways to hire an attorney or petition to stay in the country should they be arrested.
With nearly 150 people in attendance, Yapias claims the size of the crowd "speaks volumes for the concerns that each of them have in regards to this issue."
A Mexican man who contacted Yapias the morning after the meeting said he and other illegal immigrants were afraid to attend the discussion.
"[His] wife is afraid to go to the Wal-Mart," Yapias explained. "Are they going to be arresting people from the stores? Is it safe to go shopping? Our people are living in fear."
It was unclear this week where suspects who were arrested during a raid last month in Park City were being held.
"The majority of people that I know of (who were arrested) have called families from Mexico," said Shelley Weiss, an advocate for the Latino community in Summit County.
At the meeting illegal immigrants were advised to contact loved ones as soon as possible and have a plan for when family members are taken into custody.
While reportedly detaining a man wanted by authorities for missing his deportation hearing, agents apparently nabbed two other suspected illegal immigrants known as "collateral" arrests at a home in Park City last month, Weiss alleged.
But it was unclear whether agents entered the home legally, she said.
"If you’re looking for someone, you have to have a search warrant," Yapias said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Everybody has to follow laws and regulations, even them."
Understanding laws relating to consent, warrants and Miranda rights makes immigrants better able to respond when family members are arrested, he said.
Federal agents are the only authorities allowed to inquire into someone’s immigration status, but Yapias said, "when have we seen enforcement like this. We haven’t."
"Kids are the biggest problem," he said, adding that rallies scheduled around the United States Tuesday addressed why "we’re seeing kids ripped from their parents like we’ve never seen before."
Children in Park City were left without a father because of the raid last month, Weiss said, adding that the suspect who was arrested was sent back to Mexico.
"That’s a family that I’m really concerned about," she said. "You’ve got these little kids running around and they’re freaking out because their dad’s gone."
Still, the operation April 20 wasn’t unusual, says ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley.
Agents were searching for three fugitives when they entered the Park City area, she said.
But Weiss explained that nearly 10 men who were taken into custody in the raid could be deported.
"After the raid that happened we learned that our families are ill-prepared for anything like that," Yapias said. "It’s like being prepared with a 72-hour kit in case of a natural disaster."
He rebuffed critics who claim the meeting last weekend for illegal immigrants abetted criminal behavior.
"It’s not necessarily aiding and abetting as much as it is providing them information they need to deal with the realities because they have U.S.-citizen children," Yapias said. "I’m just calling for a legal means for these people to be able to work and live and be able to continue to contribute to the well-being of our local economy in Park City."
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