"Stop the raids now!" went the chant of about 40 protesters marching in front of the Immigration and Naturalization Service building near downtown Detroit last week. The demonstration was a response to the recent INS raids of businesses where Latino employees were arrested for allegedly working and living illegally in the United States.
"The raids are racist and we want them to stop," said Ernesto Mireles, a member of the Brown Berets de Aztlan, a Latino nationalist group, which organized the protest. Mireles said that 18 workers were arrested after the INS raided Gonzales Manufacturing Technologies in Madison Heights and southwest Detroit. He also said that there were 36 employees arrested at Thorn Apple Valley meat processing plant in southwest Detroit, where many Latinos work and reside. Gonzales and Thorn Apple Valley did not return Metro Times phone calls.
According to the Rev. Greg May, three Latinos were stopped and questioned outside Holy Redeemer Catholic Church when leaving English as a second language classes and one was arrested and deported.
"The question," says May, who did not attend the protest, "is why stop only those who look Hispanic and speak Spanish? It's racism."
"I've experienced a long history of discrimination by the INS," said Armando Ramirez, a member of the International Labor Solidarity Network, a UAW organization that promotes alliances with Mexican workers and endorsed the demonstration. "When I was young man, they would stop us on the street and we had to prove we were U.S. citizens. It is the same policy today," said Ramirez, whose protest sign read "U.S. immigration policy equals Nazism."
The Rev. John Nowlan of St. Hilary Church in Redford also marched with the eclectic crew of young and old Latino, African-American and white demonstrators flashing signs to passing cars on Jefferson Avenue that read, "No human being is illegal," and "Why do you hate me?"
Nowlan said he is not surprised by the raids, which he believes have followed the increase in INS funding from Congress in recent years. "They have been cracking down with a vengeance," he said.
The 1998 INS budget is $3.8 billion, and $4.2 billion has been requested for 1999. The service's budget has increased more than 150 percent since 1993.
INS officials could not be reached to comment specifically on the recent raids, but have said in the past that they do not single out any ethnic groups in search for illegal immigrants.