Organizers call federal actions inhumane
By Kelly Brewington | Sun reporter
July 1, 2008
Jessica Alvarez, vice president of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition, speaks during a rally in Baltimore protesting a raid on an Annapolis painting company that resulted in the arrest of 46 suspected illegal immigrants. (Sun photo by Kim Hairston / July 1, 2008)
The 6 a.m. call jolted Nicolas Ramos out of bed. His cousin, Veronica Ramos, was on the other end sobbing. Armed federal immigration agents had broken down her apartment door and hauled away her husband, Eduardo Delgado, as their three children hid under their beds.
"She said she never saw something like this in her whole life," said Ramos, owner of the Baltimore restaurant Arcos, and a member of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs. "She's scared, the kids are scared. They don't know what they are going to do."
Ramos shared his story Tuesday during a protest of Monday's raid on an Annapolis painting company that resulted in the arrest of Delgado and 45 other immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.
More than 75 immigrant advocates gathered at Hopkins Plaza, in front of the Baltimore Offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, hoisting signs with slogans such as, "Don't divide our families," and "Painting Houses is not a Crime."
Priests with the Archdiocese of Baltimore offered prayers for the families of arrested workers in both Spanish and English. Organizers decried the raids as inhumane, called the workers victims of a broken national immigration system, and accused their employer, Annapolis Painting Services Inc., of exploiting them.
"Every person affected yesterday has a family," said Jessica Alvarez, vice president of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition. "Today we are here to show that every person has a voice and has a community behind them. This is unjust, and our voices need to be heard."
Some who attended the rally held signs emblazoned with a crossed-out image of Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.
The Republican county executive defended the raid by federal and county authorities on the painting company and 15 homes, which police say were rented to employees by the company's owner, Robert Bontempo Jr.
Bontempo could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the 46 arrests, agents seized five bank accounts, 11 vehicles and more than a dozen homes as part of an investigation into hiring and harboring illegal immigrants. The company's owners were not arrested, but authorities said the investigation was continuing.
"Illegal means illegal. The laws should be respected and obeyed," Leopold, a former state legislator, said in an interview. "This administration has had a fair and balanced approach to immigration. On the one hand we crack down hard on illegal immigrants, but at the same time we reach out to try to assist those who are trying to secure citizenship through proper legal channels."
Midway through the rally, advocates were interrupted by shouts from onlookers who said the immigrants were to blame for their own problems.
"It's about the rule of law," said Ken Aldrich, of Ellicott City, the former director of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps of Maryland, which supports strict enforcement of immigration rules.
Some at the rally charged that agents acted callously toward the workers.
Liza Zamd, a staff attorney with the advocacy group CASA of Maryland, said agents put one arrested worker's 18-month-old child in the custody of a neighbor without the man's consent. The man was later released, she said.
Jonathan Greene, a Towson immigration attorney who has offered to represent the arrested workers for free, said he has not been able to obtain the search warrants authorities used in the raid.
"We are very concerned about what happened here," he said.
Scot Wittenberg, assistant spacial agent in charge for ICE in Baltimore, disputed the claims and said that federal search warrants were issued.
"If there was a child at a location, they would only be turned over to the custody of a person that the parent or guardian requested us to turn him over to," he said. "We would not turn them over to just anyone."
Nicholas Ramos, meanwhile, fears for his family. Ramos, a legal immigrant, entrepreneur and political appointee, came to the U.S. from Nueva Rosita, Mexico, two decades ago, struggling to make a living like many of those arrested this week.
"He is a good man, hardworking and a wonderful dad," Ramos said of Delgado. "This is devastating."
Sun reporter Steven Stanek contributed to this article