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Operation Devil Horns: Salvadorans Targeted in Anti-Gang ICE Raids

El Mensajero, News Report, Erika Cebreros, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Nov 01, 2008

Editor's Note: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)'s crackdown on the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) has had a much broader effect on the Salvadoran community in the San Francisco Bay Area. A three-year investigation culminating in the Oct. 22 arrest of 29 indicted suspects -- 22 of whom were alleged members of MS-13 -- also resulted in the arrest of 11 undocumented immigrants who are now undergoing deportation proceedings, and affected numerous residents who were not affiliated with the gang. El Mensajero associate editor Erika Cebreros spoke with Eugenia Garca, a Salvadoran American mother of five, who awoke at 6:20 a.m. to find two ICE agents in her bedroom pointing guns at her.

SAN FRANCISCO Eugenia Garca was awakened by loud shouting at about 6:20 in the morning. She opened her eyes, a little dazed and frightened, and the first thing she saw was two guns pointed at her.

Two Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were in her bedroom.
ArrestA three-year ICE investigation culminated in the arrest of
29 indicted suspects, 22 of whom were alleged members of MS-13.

Minutes earlier, ICE agents had knocked on the door of the house where Eugenia lives with her husband and three of her five children in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. Eugenias husband, Alejandro Revelo, says he let the agents in after they showed him a court order. The order, however, did not specify a name or address, according to the family.

The raid was part of an investigation dubbed "Operation Devil Horns" that focused on finding one of the most ruthless gang cliques currently operating in the Bay Area," according to Marcy M. Forman, director of the ICE office of investigations, in a press statement released by the agency. They were looking for members of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

The agents who showed up at the Revelo-Garca house on the morning of Oct. 22 were looking for the Salvadoran immigrant couples son-in-law the husband of one of their older daughters. Alejandro says that even though he told them the person they were looking for did not live with them and they had no information on his whereabouts, the agents did not suspend their operation.

They continued to inspect the house and paid particular attention to one of the coupless sons, 22-year-old Alexander, who the agents kept handcuffed for 30 minutes on the street, shivering in the cold.

Like his 18-year-old sister, Laura, and his nine-year-old brother, Roberto, Alexander was born in the United States. His parents became U.S. citizens a couple of years ago.

Eugenia has several grievances. According to Eugenia, the agents told her, I dont understand why you dont speak English if youre a citizen.

She complains that they never gave her the glass of water she asked for when she felt faint. She suffers from diabetes.
FamilyEugenia Garca and Alejandro Revelo
with their sons Alexander and Roberto

She also didnt like the fact that they left her house in a mess and took mail out of her mailbox. They took a PG&E bill I hope they pay it, she jokes.

But what most infuriated her was that they treated her son Alexander like a criminal, she says.

Alexander, who has no criminal record and is not affiliated with any gangs, describes what happened. They asked me if I was a gang member, if I knew what the Mara Salvatrucha was, and if I had any tattoos or a bad record, Alexander says. The agents werent convinced by the young mans answers and asked him to take his clothes off to prove that he didnt have any tattoos.

When they left, the ICE agents took with them some of the young mans belongings, including his computer, his iPod and his cell phone. They also took photos of him, his bedroom and his ID card.

The young man says that when the agent promised to remove his handcuffs, the agent asked him: But youre not going to run, right?

Im not a criminal, Alexander stresses.

If he were a gang member he wouldnt be here, adds his mother, standing outside the ICE offices in downtown San Francisco, where demonstrators gathered on Oct. 23 to protest the agencys recent actions in the city.

Eric Quezada, candidate for supervisor in San Franciscos District 9, was among the demonstrators at the rally organized by the Alianza Latinoamericana por los Derechos de los Inmigrantes (Latin American Alliance for Immigrant Rights) and other immigrant rights groups.

The local politician believes arrests like those recently conducted by ICE should be left to the local police. He thinks these kinds of actions put the whole comunity at risk by making people reluctant to go to the police for fear of immigration authorities.

Quezada says Operation Devil Horns connects immigration to crime and (San Francscos) Santuary City (status) in order to turn it into a political problem.

Quezada and other activists believe ICE is targeting Mara Salvatrucha gang members in order to send a message to conservatives who oppose illegal immigration -- that the current administration is doing something about it.
RallyThe Revelo-Garca family protests outside the ICE offices in San Francisco.
Its no coincidence, they say, that the operation is taking place right before the presidential elections when the Republican candidate is behind in the polls.

Its a tremendous political push for (John) McCain, says Quezada.

It isnt fair that you come to this country to work hard and they treat you like this, Eugenia, who works as a housecleaner, says on the verge of crying.

Her husband, Alejandro, was upset about the way ICE carried out the operation. He thinks that they should do a really thorough investigation first of the people they are looking for so they go to the right place and dont affect people who have nothing to do with gangs.

Eugenia says she never imagined that she would experience a raid firsthand. When I didnt have papers, I never ran into (ICE), she says with a smile.

If they tell you once, they tell you a thousand times here in this country that a lot of other countries violate peoples human rights, but with this (the raids), they are doing the same thing in the United States, adds Eugenia.

No wonder theyre called ICE - they are frozen and have no heart, she says, making her sons Alexander and Roberto laugh.

Photos: Erika Cebreros / El Mensajero

Related Articles:

The Knock at the Door: San Franciscos Sanctuary Status Under Fire

Deporting the American Dream

Will We Salvadorans Be the New 'Terrorists'?

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