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One Sad Friday 

Why are the legal among us still targeted?

"What if God was one of us?

Just a slob like one of us

Just a stranger on the bus

Trying to make his way home"

-- From "One Of Us," composer Eric Bazilian, interpreter Joan Osborne

Before noon on Good Friday, when Christian faith commemorates a sacred day of grief due to the crucifixion of Jesus at the hill of Calvary, a group of three men was walking on South Boulevard in the heart of the Hispanic community of Charlotte.

Immigration officials in plain clothes approached the three carpenters and asked them for documents. One of them explained to the immigration agents he was legally in the country on a tourist visa. However, the undercover agents doubted him. In front of a colorful mural at the back of Panadería La Mexicana, which depicts an immigrant baker putting bread in an oven, the newcomers were arrested.

"They put them in handcuffs, and they threw them out in the car. They threw them like criminals," an American citizen of Honduran heritage recalled in an interview to the cable channel News 14 Carolinas.

"They can do it to me," the eyewitness said, emphasizing the detention could happen to anyone who looks Hispanic.

According to the arrested men, the agents never read them any rights, as required before any law enforcement officer may question a person regarding the possible commission of a crime.

After being detained at the federal jails at the Tyvola Center, the ICE agents freed the man with the visa. Later, the other two were freed, after their criminal records were checked. They were not robbers, not assassins, not DWI repeated offenders. They were just hard and humble workers.

Nevertheless, two of the men, brothers, ended up with orders to appear before an immigration judge in Atlanta in November.

I called the ICE offices in Charlotte four times the day of the incident, but did not receive an answer before deadline. Alexandra Vilchez, from the Spanish-language weekly Que Pasa, was able to talk with ICE officials.

She was told they could not comment on the particular case of the three Honduran-born men but said the action was "routinely" practiced in order to enforce the law.

The arrest has worried many in the Latino community about possible racial profiling by ICE agents.

Also, the timing has been questioned. It took place just four days after the massive country-wide pro-immigrant demonstrations of April 10. Many in the Hispanic community have interpreted the action as a way to bring fear to the local community before the occurrence of a number of rallies scheduled for May 1 promoting immigration reform.

Indeed, Latino neighborhoods endured the worst terror last week, after 44 undocumented workers at a local plant were taken into custody for deportation. The operation was part of planned raids in 26 states against IFCO Systems, a Netherlands-based company that makes and repairs wooden pallets. Between Wednesday and Sunday, a wave of rumors emptied the streets and shopping centers frequented by Hispanics in Charlotte.

Several cultural and sports events were suspended because of the panic. Despite the provocation, immigrant advocates have decided to move forward with plans to hold an immigration-rights vigil next Monday.

They want to carry on the message of peace that has characterized the recent civil rights movement for undocumented immigrants. The activists hope their prayers will help those like the three Honduran men detained on Sad Friday.

Rafael Prieto Zartha, a native of Colombia, is the editor of the Charlotte-based Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente.

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