Forum tries to ease fear of immigration crackdown 

More than 100 people turned out to a community forum Thursday to hear local leaders’ assurances that they have little to fear in the wake of recent immigration sweeps.

Rumors began circulating last week that several Redwood City residents had been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. One rumor alleged that a woman was arrested while picking up her children at Hoover School.

ICE officials are now working hard to dispel the rumor about the mother, which has prompted many parents to stop taking their kids to school, according to ICE spokeswoman Victoria Kice.

"It’s almost impossible to stop a rumor like this once it gets started," said Kice, who added that the woman was arrested in her apartment. Recent ICE sweeps have targeted "immigration fugitives" — people who have been through the courts and ordered by a judge to leave the country, she said.

Immigration officials have used warrants to arrest 515 people in the Bay Area since Oct. 1, but another 190 were arrested without prior warrants, Kice said. In 2006, 1,077 were arrested, including 365 for whom immigration officers did not have warrants.

While Redwood City police and Sheriff’s Office representatives explicitly said Thursday that they are not stopping people solely to check documentation, some residents said police in other cities are not taking such a hands-off approach.

"I was stopped by police in Burlingame for having a headlight out, and they said they had a warrant for someone with my name," resident Mario Ramirez said. They let him go, but detained his passenger, a cousin who did not have documentation.

"Many people are afraid to report crimes because they too might be reported — but at the same time, there are women being beaten in their homes," Ramirez said.

Redwood City police will not become involved in any immigration situation unless a person has committed a serious crime, police Chief Louis Cobarruviaz said. Other experts told residents to remember their rights when any officer comes to their door.

"Sometimes they have a warrant to go to apartment number one, and then they go on to number two, number three and number four," said Mark Silverman, a specialist with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center who reminded listeners of their legal rights when dealing with police and immigration.

Daily attendance levels at Redwood City schools remain low after dipping last Thursday, according to Redwood City School District Superintendent Jan Christensen. Students at local high schools, Cañada College and the Sequoia Adult School also remain frightened, officials said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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