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Indicators of the paranoia escape notice at first.
But at the meat counter at Krist Market, a short walk from the Linda Vista apartment where Manuel Guzman was arrested and deported March 2, butcher Mike Jimenez’s plummeting sales last week were as sure a sign as any that this community has withdrawn.
On Friday, Jimenez signed for a delivery of just three 70-pound cases of beef. “I usually order eight boxes a week and sell them all,” Jimenez said in Spanish from behind his glass case. “This week I only sold three. Nobody has come to buy meat all week. There’s a fear.”
Along the sidewalk in front of the market, elementary school children normally escorted home by parents are walking home alone, their parents too afraid to leave home to pick them up. Some mothers, after picking up their children, are running back home.
“They’re afraid,” said Juan Agustin, whose wife has left the house sparingly, except to pick their eight-year-old son up from school. They keep the shades drawn.
Fears of immigration enforcement are a constant of life in communities like Linda Vista with large undocumented populations. But since Guzman’s arrest, what was once a persistent caution has turned into a pervasive paranoia keeping fearful residents indoors. Rumors of checkpoints and patrolling authorities, some unfounded, have been racing across the community
The March 2 deportation was the most recent in a string of federal arrests of undocumented immigrants that have affected the Linda Vista community.
Word of the arrest spread quickly, and since, many shaken residents of this tight-knit, largely immigrant — and in some pockets predominantly undocumented — community have gone into hiding. They have refused to leave home for all but necessities out of fear of being picked up by authorities.
The courtyards that anchor the World-War II era apartment tracts dominating Linda Vista — usually bustling with evening chatter among neighbors — have been mostly empty of activity.
And on Friday, health and wellness classes at the neighborhood’s Bayside Community Center were canceled after only one person of 20 showed up, said Jorge Riquleme, the center’s director.
In the early morning of March 2, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested Guzman, 44, as he walked out of his Linda Vista apartment to investigate a suspicious noise. They went into his apartment where his family was sleeping, the family said, and arrested Josefina Perez, his partner of 20 years.
The couple was loaded into an unmarked van that neighborhood residents say has been spotted in the neighborhood in the days since. Guzman, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was deported to Tijuana. Perez, also undocumented, was released to look after her three children but required to wear a device that will track her movements while officials sort out her case.
Perez, 40, had been previously deported for being in the country illegally, she said. But Guzman, who made a steady but paycheck-to-paycheck living maintaining the apartment complex where the family lived, had been working legally until his work permit expired. The couple had recently paid thousands of dollars to two “notarios” — immigration consultants who claim, often fraudulently, that they can help undocumented immigrants gain legal status — to help with Guzman’s case.
His appeal for a renewal was denied before a judge, Perez said, and may have resulted in a deportation order against him.
Lauren Mack, an ICE spokeswoman, said she could not discuss Guzman’s case without his consent.
But his family does not know where he is. Sitting in her living room with her three children, her two youngest U.S. citizens, Perez said she had not heard from Guzman for several days since he called from a Tijuana migrants’ shelter using a prepaid phone card.
The couple was set to be married March 20. They had recently dipped into Guzman’s modest earnings for a wedding dress, which Perez had on layaway.
“And now,” Perez said, through quivering lips, her 6-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl at her side, “we don’t even know where he is.”
It’s been years, Linda Vista residents say, since the neighborhood has seen so many immigration arrests in such a short period. It started in November, with the arrest of two undocumented women who were living in an apartment where ICE officials showed up with a warrant for someone else, residents say.
Earlier this year, an undocumented man was arrested after reporting that his U.S.-born son’s Social Security card had been stolen. And last month, the son of a Linda Vista man from Peru was detained while driving a friend from San Diego to Los Angeles.
Since the most recent arrest, residents say they have spotted immigration authorities staked out in business parking lots and driving down neighborhood streets.
Within Linda Vista’s cohesive community of residents from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, word gets around quickly. Housing in the neighborhood, with many of the units constructed in uniform tracts set around a central courtyard, is conducive to neighborly interaction, and many families have lived in the same rental complexes for years.
Phone calls and text messages have have spread across Linda Vista’s and San Diego’s immigrant communities, forwarded by friends and family trying to alert loved ones of immigration authorities at local grocery stores and intersections.
Though motivated by confirmed events like Guzman’s arrest, many of the messages spreading by word of mouth, text messages and radio have had a paralyzing effect on local immigrant communities, said Christian Ramirez, a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee, a local immigrant rights organization.
They may be distorting the reality of the extent of the enforcement, he said. ICE does not give warning before engaging in enforcement activities.
On Friday, Ramirez spoke to a crowd of 200 Linda Vista residents who gathered at the Bayside Community Center seeking clarity and assurance over the recent deportations in the neighborhood.
“Those rumors are injecting terror into the community,” Ramirez said. “They’re injecting psychoses and they’re generating unnecessary panic.”
Unlike her neighbors who all are undocumented, Perez said, she leaves her apartment without much fear now. She doesn’t have to run to and from her children’s school. The bracelet around her ankle traces her every move.
The uncertainty of her family’s fate is what most weighs on her, she said.
“Are they going to deport me too?” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to become of us.”