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North Bexar neighborhood decries deputy’s alleged immigration enforcement

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Families from a north Bexar County community rallied outside the Bexar County jail Friday. Immigrant families in the community claim they've been targeted by a "rogue sheriff's deputy."

Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz has requested an internal investigation to look into complaints that one of his deputies has been playing the part of an over-zealous immigration officer in the Timberwood Park area this past year.

Residents claim Deputy Patrick Plate, a 19-year veteran of the department, has targeted working-class Hispanics by nabbing day laborers, asking for immigration papers, and phoning for immigration agents to swing by racially-motivated traffic stops.

Local resident Miguel Perez says he was pulled over, questioned about his citizenship, and released. Perez says Plate told him specifically he intended to “clean up the area” by tracking down undocumented Mexican residents. Perez said he knows of at least nine others who Plate has stopped for immigration checks, which has landed some in deportation proceedings.

“Our wives no longer want to go to the grocery stores to buy groceries,” Perez said. “We just want to be left alone and for our wives, our children, not to be terrorized.”

Plate could not be reached for comment, but state law enforcement records show he has no disciplinary record with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

Carlos de Leon, an activist with the Brown Berets of San Antonio, said he first began receiving calls from families living in the small neighborhood earlier this month complaining the deputy had been on a mission to snare undocumented immigrants in his patrol area. Immigration statuses vary in the largely Mexican-immigrant community, de Leon said — many are lawful permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for decades, while others have been given work permits while they vie for permanent residency in immigration court. Others, he said, are undocumented, some with U.S. citizen children

. “After I talked with them, I quickly got the impression these people were living in terror, that this deputy was a loose canon,” de Leon said. Apart from allegations of targeting Hispanics for traffic stops, and that Plate would called on immigration agents even after residents showed work permits and drivers licenses, some families claim the deputy would often drive through the neighborhood loudly calling out to immigrants over his squad-car bullhorn, asking that they come out of their homes and show their papers

. “He’s stopping people just because they’re Mexican,” said José Gomez, who’s lived in the U.S. for 40 years and was granted permanent resident status in 1971. “He looks for laborers, for beat-up trucks with tools and ladders in the back. He’s looking for working people.”

José Gutierrez, an undocumented immigrant from central Mexico who’s lived in the neighborhood since 1991, said he was stopped by Plate earlier this month while driving to a job, hauling bags of sand in his old pickup. “I thought maybe there was something wrong with the car, but he didn’t try to write me a ticket or anything. … He didn’t tell me why he pulled me over. He just called immigration. ‘Where are you from?’ was the only question,” Gutierrez said, adding that he’s now fighting his deportation with help of lawyers with the local Cesar Chavez Legacy and Educational Foundation.

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