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Hispanics say police harassed them during immigration sweep

August 19, 1997

CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) _ When Catalina Veloz’ 5-year-old son sees a police officer these days, she says, he tearfully pleads with her to go inside and hide.

``He cries because he doesn’t want them to take me away,″ said Veloz, one of many Hispanic residents of this Phoenix suburb who say they were harassed by city police during a week-long roundup of illegal immigrants last month.

Sixteen Hispanics filed a $35 million civil rights lawsuit against Chandler and several city officials Monday, saying they were mistreated by police during the sweep.

City officials have said police teamed up with U.S. Border Patrol agents to look for illegal immigrants after getting community complaints about crime.

Chandler spokesman Dave Bigos issued a one-paragraph statement Monday saying police ``acted correctly in enforcing the law.″

The roundup resulted in the deportation of more than 400 illegal immigrants.

Those who sued said officers stopped them and demanded they prove their citizenship solely because they looked Mexican.

``We’re not going to be stopped because of the color of our skin in a state that we founded and made great,″ said lawyer Stephen Montoya, who filed the lawsuit.

City police have no authority to enforce immigration laws, Montoya said. Chandler police said Border Patrol agents were the ones who handled the immigration matters. Border Patrol spokesman Rob Daniels in Tucson did not return a telephone call Monday.

Veloz said it was a Chandler police officer who pulled her over when she was driving July 29 and asked to see her immigration papers.

``I said, `I don’t have any immigration papers. I was born in Phoenix,‴ Veloz said. ``I felt like something scraped off the bottom of a shoe. That’s how bad I felt.″

Celso Vazquez, a Mexican national who is a legal U.S. resident, said a Chandler officer pulled him over and asked for his papers. He said the officer left when he showed his car title and registration.

Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods has said he is looking into the case to determine if any criminal charges should be filed against the police. U.S. Attorney Janet Napolitano said she would meet with Woods and Border Patrol officials next month to discuss the incidents.

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