Upon Further Review . . .
Photo by Davis BarberOn May Day, 100 masked protesters, most of them high school and college students, staged a protest in front of Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's district headquarters in Garden Grove. Their complaint: Sanchez played a critical role in expanding the presence of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Anaheim and even supported placing an INS agent inside the city's jail.
After talking to Sanchez's press people, who said she hadn't "taken a real solid position" on that issue and "wants to mediate rather than take sides," we called the protesters "ill-informed" ("There's a Specter Haunting Garden Grove," May 3). It turns out we were ill-informed. Sanchez confirmed in an interview with the Weekly after the story appeared that she has always been a strong supporter of the INS jail program.
But it's something Sanchez and her staff apparently prefer to keep quiet, possibly because the program's biggest proponent over the years has been none other than Anaheim patrolman and anti-immigration activist Harald Martin, who has also favored sending INS officers into the city's schools to deport anyone lacking proper papers.
Sanchez has tried hard in recent years to portray herself as a friend of immigrants—even undocumented residents—in her district. She likes to point out that Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) authored the bill that sought to take the Anaheim jail program nationwide. ("Why don't those people protest Chris Cox's office?" she said of the May Day rally.) Yet Sanchez voted in favor of that bill. And, more important, she played a critical role in trying to get permanent federal funding for the Anaheim INS jail program.
"If you are a criminal, I think we have a right as a country to ask if you are even supposed to be here," Sanchez said. "Do I agree with [the INS jail] policy? Yeah, I agree with that. Do I want to stop every person and see if they ought to be here? No. Do I support that horrible officer Harald Martin? No. Do I like racial profiling? No way. I fight against it all the time.
"This is totally different than racial profiling," she continued. "I work every single day and have the only open doors in this county for people who say, 'I think I am about to be deported—what can you do?'"
Sanchez claimed her staff is currently handling 800 open cases for her constituents, 70 percent of which are immigration-related. "I am the only [congressperson] that works with unions and supports collective bargaining or who tells employees to pay good wages and benefits," she said. "I work on all these issues because they are very good for all Americans. And still I am the only one who gets picketed!"
Perhaps that's because she seems to try to have it both ways. For instance, while expressing staunch support for the INS jail program, she also questioned whether it's effective.
"Fifty percent of the time, there is an INS agent who runs a background check to see if you have legal documents to be in the United States," she said of the jail program. "Ten percent of that 50 percent of the time, we found the people who have been booked for a crime are here illegally. About half the time, this INS agent will be here because it's not fully funded."
In other words, the program barely works, so protesters have nothing to be steamed about. But a close check shows that Sanchez has been trying since 1997 to get full funding, arguing that any less places an undue burden on local law enforcement. That year, she wrote a letter to Congressman Melvin Watt (D-North Carolina), the then-ranking member of the Immigration and Claims Subcommittee, requesting that the program receive permanent federal funding.
"My position is that criminal illegal aliens should be permanently deported," she wrote. "Not only do I support the permanent deportation of criminal aliens, I want them caught as soon as possible." The same year, Sanchez voted for an amendment by Representative James Traficant Jr. (then an Ohio Democrat, now a convicted felon) allowing for the deployment of 10,000 troops along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out "terrorists, drug traffickers and illegal aliens."
Nativo Lopez, national co-director of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, sent Sanchez a letter on April 14, 2001, asking her to reconsider her support for having an INS agent inside the Anaheim jail. "The policy of 95 percent of all other police departments in Orange County and other counties in California side with us on this issue," he wrote. "We are now calling upon you to take a position on this matter and work to assure no further federal funding for this program."
Sanchez never responded, so three months later, Lopez wrote another letter, which, like the previous one, was co-signed by many community leaders, including Los Amigos of Orange County chairman Amin David, Bishop Jaime Soto—and even Sanchez's younger sister Linda Sanchez, executive secretary treasurer of the Orange County Central Labor Council. "I am surprised that you have not found the time to respond to my written and telephone communication," Lopez wrote. "Congresswoman Sanchez, this is an issue that will not disappear, nor should it be ignored. We expect you to be more responsive to persons and organizations that have supported you unconditionally in your three election races."
Sanchez wrote back within days: "After carefully reviewing information on this matter, I feel obligated to continue my support for the 'Criminal Alien Identification Program' in order to ensure the public safety and support our long-term crime-fighting efforts."
Green Party activist Duane Roberts, who lives in Sanchez's district, says that he and other progressives were willing to give Sanchez some initial slack because after taking office, Sanchez immediately came under attack from House Republicans.
"Being a freshman congresswoman, she was being encouraged to vote a certain way by her colleagues to appease the more reactionary elements within her constituency," Roberts said. "She has changed her position on a number of issues and is more progressive than she was back in 1997. The joke then among progressives was that we had gotten rid of B-1 Bob [Dornan] and replaced him with B-2 Loretta."