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INS raid nabs 71; manager arrested

Carlos Miller
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 10, 2001

Federal agents detained 71 people, including a woman suspected of harboring undocumented immigrants, at a Chandler apartment complex Monday morning.

"It was INS executing one arrest warrant for an individual that was thought to be harboring illegal aliens," said Jennie Larsen, speaking for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "In the process of executing the arrest warrant, they found a large amount of illegal aliens."

Immigration and Naturalization Service agents arrested Carmen Maria Melendez on a charge of harboring undocumented immigrants in the Betty Russell apartment complex in the 400 block of NorthArizona Avenue. Melendez, a Puerto Rican native, is the manager of the 13-unit complex.

Carmen Lidia Vazquez, Melendez's sister, said more than 20 agents dressed in dark clothing and wearing yellow armbands entered the complex and arrested her sister about 8 a.m.

Then they searched each of the complex's small rooms and found 70 men, women and children suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

In the wake of the raid, several truckloads of Mexican nationals were dropped off at the apartment complex. They were told immigration officials may return.

Clutching plastic bags filled with possessions, they separated into small groups and disappeared into the back alley, some leading children by the hand.

Tomas Alvarez and his pregnant girlfriend, Juana Perez, were sitting in one of the rooms after spending several days riding in the back of a pickup truck. The couple, from Veracruz, Mexico, were planning to remain at the apartment complex a few days before making their way to North Carolina.

Through tears, Perez explained that all she wants is to provide a better life for their unborn child.

In an incident last month, 103 undocumented immigrants were caught in a south Phoenix neighborhood.

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