Advocates in Tennessee claim Latinos in Shelbyville were purposely coerced by federal officials during immigration raids.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denies the allegations.

Saturday's raids came five days after a hearing attended by representatives from the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security where Latino residents complained that they are the victims of racial profiling and illegal detention.

ICE agents showed up at the homes and businesses of at least two people involved in organizing the hearing, witnesses said. Neither person was arrested.

Megan Macaraeg, organizing director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, described the way Shelbyville Latinos view the raids like this: "That'll teach you to speak up and say bad things about us and bring the feds in."
 
ICE spokesman Temple Black said in an email that allegations the raids were retaliatory are "without merit."

"ICE did not attend the meeting, track participants, or target supporters," he wrote. "Rather, wholly apart and distinct from the meeting, ICE identified and arrested three convicted criminals who were living at large in the community."

 Regardless of the intention, the raids and a continuous show of force by ICE over the past several days has frightened residents, said TIRRC organizer Leticia Alvarez, who was in the store of one of the hearing organizers when ICE agents circled the parking lot, writing down license plate numbers.

"Everyone is scared," she said. ..."There is serious panic in the community."

A report on last week's hearing -- sponsored by TIRRC, Latinos Unidos de Shelbyville (United Latinos of Shelbyville) and the Washington, D.C.,-based Rights Working Group -- links many of the reported rights abuses to the implementation of Tennessee's "Jailer Bill," which went into effect in January. The bill requires jailers to try to determine whether inmates are legally in the country and alert ICE if they believe someone is an illegal immigrant.

According to the report, that has led some Shelbyville Police officers to deliberately target Latinos in an attempt to find and deport illegal immigrants.

TIRRC found through open records requests on traffic violations for the first quarter of 2011, that just four officers made 62 percent of the arrests of Latinos for traffic violations.

"Since Shelbyville police officers are assigned to patrol throughout the city rather than in a specific area, these statistics suggest that some officers may be intentionally targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops and arrests," the report states.

Shelbyville police Chief Austin Swing said he did not know how TIRRC had compiled its numbers, but he does not believe he has any out-of-control officers on his staff. He said he had not heard any complaints of racial profiling before the release of the report on Monday.

"If anything like that is going on, I'm not aware of it," he said. He added that he would investigate any substantiated accusations of officer misconduct.

The report also claims that, once in jail, Latinos are being held illegally past the time they should be released in order to give ICE more time to decide whether to pick them up for possible deportation proceedings.

Bill Geissler, a member of Latinos Unidos de Shelbyville, said he has been to the jail numerous times over the past year on behalf of immigrants and has seen the abuses firsthand.

Bedford County Sheriff's Capt. Tony Bennett disputed that, saying that jailers only hold inmates for the amount of time they are legally allowed.

“We're doing exactly what the immigration department has asked us to do," he said.
And the report claims that ICE's Nashville Fugitive Operations Team asked the Bedford County

Probation Office to prepare a list of people with Hispanic-sounding last names to target for deportation.
"Latino probationers were profiled based on their perceived national origin," the report states.

Macaraeg said the allegations in the report were enough to make TIRRC call for a Justice Department investigation of illegal patterns and practices.

The raids on Saturday and a continuous show of force by immigrations agents since then have prompted them to request a fast-track of that process.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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