Twenty-four people were arrested on immigration charges Tuesday morning after day laborers approached Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents sitting in unmarked cars in a convenience store parking lot and asked them for work, ICE officials said.
Hispanic advocates quickly condemned the arrests, accusing ICE of targeting only day laborers who appeared to be of Latino descent.
The ICE agents did not plan to arrest anyone in the 7-Eleven parking lot, said Marc Raimondi, an ICE spokesman. Rather, they regrouped there after a targeted attempt to arrest people known to have been ordered to leave the country by immigration judges, he said.
"We don't find that credible at all," said Eliza Leighton, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, which quickly sent representatives to the site after hearing about the arrests. "This is a place where day laborers often congregate. In our estimation, this is a clear example of ICE engaging in racial profiling."
The 7-Eleven at the corner of South Broadway and East Lombard streets sits in the heart of southeast Baltimore's Upper Fells Point neighborhood, which has a substantial Hispanic population. The city and CASA have attempted in recent years to set up a day laborer center in southeast Baltimore but have run into resistance from neighbors.
Mayor Sheila Dixon believes Tuesday's arrests highlight the need for a
designated day laborer site, said Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor. The city is exploring several potential sites, said Rafael Regales, the mayor's Hispanic liaison.
"It will protect potential employers and employees alike and really give the city and the people who are looking for resources an opportunity to do it in an environment that's safe," McCarthy said.
The ICE agents congregated in the parking lot after they didn't find any of the illegal immigrants they were looking for at a nearby location, Raimondi said.
"Today's operation was not planned, but nevertheless, when we encounter immigration status violators, our mandate is to enforce the law," Raimondi said.
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