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DATELINE TEXAS La Migtut Goes Shopping BY NATE BLAKESLEE Austin In late January, hitting construction sites, landscaping firms restaurant and hotels, plainclothes Im migration and Naturalization Service agents nabbed 234 undocumented workers in Austin. One hun dred ninety-nine of the detainees were back in Mexico the morning after their capture according to a press release from INS regional headquarters in San Antonio. Not mentioned in the press release was any information about six men who had been wrongly detained, but INS spokesperson Ray Dudley said they were all released within two hours. About a dozen others have requested hearings to challenge their deportation and are being held in a detention facility in Laredo. The arrest of legal residents may be old news to most Texans, but a new tactic the INS is using at East Austin grocery stores may not be so familiar. On the afternoon of January 19, several armed agents stationed themselves at the exits to the parking lot of the HEB store on the corner of Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road. According to eyewitnesses, the agents proceeded to check systematically the identification of customers leaving the lot. Apparently their timing was right. Witnesses say about thirty persons were arrested and taken away in INS vans. “The raid took place on a Monday, which was no accident,” says East Side businessman and activist Marcelo Tafoya, “because that’s when a lot of Mexican workers go to buy their groceries. They live sometimes five or six to a household, and they’ll buy maybe $200-$300 worth of food at a time.” One East Side nightclub owner, who declined to give his name, said two of his employees were arrested in the parking lot and deported that crossed back into the United States and returned to Austin less than a week later. “They told me there were bags of groceries just left in the lot,” he said. “Nobody thought to check if they had kids waiting for them at home, or what.” Dudley says he has no knowledge of any recent operations in Austin other than the January 26-30 raids. The HEB incident, he explained, doesn’t fit his agency’s modus operandi. “We go to job sites, we don’t just pull in to some lot and say ‘let’s check for illegals,'” Dudley said. But Maria Loya, who works for the Austin immigrant aid group El Buen Samaritano, says she has heard numerous reports in recent months of raids on customers at several East Side gro ALTHOUGH INS AGENTS ARE AUTHO-RIZED TO DETAIN SOMEONE WITH-OUT A WARRANT IF THEY BELIEVE THERE IS PROBABLE CAUSE, THEY ARE PROHIBITED FROM USING PROFILES, WHICH ARE CONSIDERED DISCRIMINATORY AND THEREFORE CONSTITUTIONALLY SUSPECT. cery stores. Attorney Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project has heard the same stories. Harrington, who frequently handles litigation involving the INS, has also heard complaints that agents are entering stores, walking the aisles, and methodically selecting people for questioning. “As a practical matter,” says Harrington, “they are employing what’s called a ‘profile’ how someone is dressed, how they talk, what they are purchasing.” Although INS agents are authorized to detain someone without a warrant if they believe there is probable cause, they are prohibited from using profiles, which are considered discriminatory and therefore constitutionally suspect. Although the issue of probable cause has always been a gray area, Harrington says, setting up a checkpoint in the parking lot of an HEB is not. “That would be totally illegal,” he said. That in itself might explain why no agency claims responsibility for the parking lot raid. When asked about the uniformed agents working in the HEB parking lot, Dudley suggested that this reporter call the Border Patrol, whose agents, he said, wear the familiar light green uniforms reportedly seen in the HEB parking lot. The Border Patrol is a separate enforcement division of the INS \(whose worksite invesBorder Patrol’s primary task is, of course, “area containment” along the border, although the agency responds to tips about illegal workers, usually in rural areas. Agents at the Border Patrol office closest to Austin, about seventy miles away in Llano, deny participating in any East Austin raid. They pointed out that plainclothes INS agents are often accompanied by uniformed detention agents \(in the same light ceration of suspected undocumented immigrants. And they suggested a call to the INS. Spokespersons for the McAllen and Laredo sectors of the Border Patrol \(who couldn’t even agree on which jurisdiction counterpart in the neighboring sector. The agents themselves unlike the official spokespersons have fewer reservations about their activities. Although he declined to be identified, a Border Patrol agent contacted for this story confirmed that grocery stores are commonly targeted. “HEB is a good place to get ’em,” he said, “…because that’s where they shop, and where they cash their checks.” There was more specific confirmation of the raid on the HEB lot. Nona Evans of HEB’s Austin district office confirms that something did happen on the parking lot in front of the Riverside HEB on January 19, but because “HEB was in no way involved,” she would not comment further. This much is clear: immigration agents from some agency have been arresting MARCH 13, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5