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Arrests force hundreds of Latinos to seek refuge in church

PAINESVILLE, OH, May 20, 2007 (AP): An ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) crackdown on undocumented  immigrants caused hundreds of Latinos who work in northeast Ohio to take refuge in a Roman Catholic Church.

About 400 people huddled inside the basement of St. Mary Catholic Church on Saturday after the arrests undocumented immigrants on Friday, many of them in this city about 30 miles east of Cleveland.

By Saturday night, most of the people had left, feeling they were safe from arrest.

“We are scared,” said Guadelupe González, 36, who sat with his wife and two children with a rosary wrapped around his hand. ``They can take me and send me back to México.''

Activists in the Lake County Latino community claimed about 100 people were taken into custody, but a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman there were 24 arrests.

``They weren't beating in doors. Nothing heavy-handed. They had arrest warrants, not search warrants,'' said Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap, whose deputies assisted federal agents. ``I heard they came upon six people in a van. All six were illegal.''

The ICE agents had a list of people to arrest, said Painesville police Sgt. Dan Waterman. They went to addresses of the people on the lists but also arrested other illegal immigrants they came across.

``It was a target operation,'' Waterman said.

A rally Saturday at Painesville City Hall attracted about 200 people who denounced the raids. They held Mexican flags, U.S. flags, and signs with phrases such as, ``You can't deport us all!''

The raids unfairly punish a hardworking community, said Veronica Dahlberg, an activist in the local Latino community and head of HOLA, Hispanas Organizadas de Lake y Ashtabula.

``Is this going to make America better somehow?'' Dahlberg said.

The arrests were part of a national crackdown. It comes after the passage of a compromise bill recently agreed to by congressional leaders and endorsed by President Bush that put the spotlight on the immigration debate.

The bill would give legal status to 12 million undocumented immigrants, toughen border security, and create a temporary guestworker program.

A special team of agents goes after undocumented immigrants who have received final orders of deportation from a federal immigrations judge, said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman with ICE.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Latino immigrants lived in Lake and Ashtabula counties last year. Most work at the many nurseries in eastern Lake County.

St. Mary Catholic Church has bonded with the Latino community over the years, drawing hundreds to its weekly Latino mass.

The Rev. Stephen Vellenga said there are people at the church nightly, not just when immigration officials come to town.

``The church has always been a place of welcome,'' he said.

Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com






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