Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010 | 10:59 p.m.
On July 29, federal agents raided Las Vegas-area bus terminals, resulting in the arrest of more than two dozen suspected illegal immigrants.
On Tuesday night, members of the Hispanic community filled a small classroom at the East Las Vegas Community Center to find out from Immigration Customs Enforcement agents and Customs and Border Protection agents more details about the raids.
Some people said they were scared to even be in the same room as the agents. But they wanted to know: Did agents find what they said they were looking for that prompted the raids — “coyotes” or human smugglers, drug smugglers and victims of human trafficking?
The answer was no.
Paul Beeson, chief patrol agent of the Yuma sector for Customs and Border Protection, said the operation was to target “transportation hubs” that aid in smuggling. But the operation was cut short because of logistical and technological issues and lasted three to four hours.
“In that short period of time, we did not apprehend anybody we felt was actively engaged in alien smuggling,” Beeson said. “We did not encounter any human trafficking victims.”
The statement prompted Emmanuel Corrales, owner of the Las Vegas Shuttle Co., to ask, “Where is the intelligence?”
“Why didn’t you arrest human smugglers or drug traffickers?” Corrales asked the agents. “I really don’t buy it that you guys had intelligence. I think you guys came here to panic a community.”
“That’s right!” interjected community member Renald Ramoz, who drew applause from the room.
“It’s a joke,” Ramoz said after the meeting. “It’s pre-scripted. It’s a circus.”
The meeting began with a 30-minute moderated discussion in which Beeson answered submitted questions.
ICE Field Director Steven Branch and Richard Curry, an agent of the Homeland Security Investigative Branch, also were at the meeting.
In the last half hour, people were allowed to ask further questions, though they were encouraged to not speak about specific cases.
Vincenta Montoya, an immigration attorney representing one of those arrested in the raids, was vocal in her opposition to how the raids were handled.
“On what justification did you have to go to the bus stations here, having your ID hidden in your shirts and detaining them this far from the border?” Montoya said. “What you followed I do not believe was correct procedure. So far from the border there are different standards.”
Beeson defended the operation, saying it was based on intelligence about specific bus stations. He said there was no racial profiling.
“We did not target any particular community,” Beeson said. “We went to where the stations are located. That’s what we do, folks.”
But Corrales pointed out that the buses that were raided were headed south, making it illogical for them to be stopped if agents were looking for human smugglers. He also expressed frustration that he was asked for proof of his citizenship, even though he was just at his office doing work.
“We all look alike. If I’m going to my office, why should I prove I am a U.S. citizen for just working?” he said. “Why does John Smith not have to be asked for citizenship? You gotta be tall, blonde and blue eyes?”
Pastor Joel Menchaca of Amistad Christiana Church said he was disappointed about how the meeting turned out. He was also disappointed that news cameras were not allowed in the meeting.
“I feel that the people had a lot more questions, but they cut us short,” he said. “The people did not believe what they said.”