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Federal authorities raid mall in fake ID probe

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A federal raid led to a community protest Tuesday in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. The protest came after federal agents shut down a discount mall during an investigation into the making and selling of phony identification documents.

Federal agents raided the mall to search for records and evidence.

The feds may be investigating a phony documents scheme at the Discount Mall at 26th and Albany, however, it is the anti-immigration activists who have taken center stage. The street around the Discount Mall was blocked off once the protest began to grow when the feds first showed up at about 2 p.m.

"We're executing a search warrant there as part of an ongoing investigation," Rice said. He said the FBI had a search warrant for records, but declined to release additional information.

Federal agents in full gear, some holding machine guns, surrounded the parking lot of the Discount Mall in Little Village. As world of the federal operation spread through the community, demonstrators rushed to the scene. Most were unsure of what was happening, but they had heard that agents detained dozens of people inside the mall.

Rosanna Jimenez works inside and watched as the agents came in.

"They went all the way over there, Foto Munoz, where they take the pictures, and they start picking up people outside here. Everything was blocked completely. So we all got scared. Very scared," said Jimenez.

Twenty-second Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz says agents confiscated film and a camera, but arrested nobody at Foto Munoz. Witnesses say they did arrest more than a dozen people and detained more than 200 in the mall.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said in a statement that the office would hold a news conference Wednesday to release more information on an "alleged fraudulent identification document organization operating in Chicago's Little Village community."

The Little Village neighborhood has one of the largest Mexican communities in the Midwest.

The agents on hand Tuesday included FBI and immigrations officers who had search warrants for an alleged fake ID documentation organization. According to sources, a wide range of fraudulent documents were allegedly being made and distributed at the mall. But protesters say there was no reason to frighten the entire community over it.

"We are not here to stop anybody from enforcing the law. But there is common sense into this thing. Why do it in such a public way as to intimidate the people here in this community?" said Alderman George Cardenas, 12th Ward.

After rallying at the entrance to the mall, protesters marched down the street to a church for a prayer vigil. They say if the aim was to intimidate them, it failed.

"They just did a mass intimidation. They made us believe out here that they were arresting everybody that was here, but they came in with the intention to stop people from marching on May 1. They haven't done this like this from when I can remember. It's clear to us what their intentions are," said Roberto Lopez, Centro Sin Fronteras.

Officials from other immigrant rights groups said they received dozens of calls from area residents.

"People are calling about their families and want to know what's happening," said Diego Bonesatti, a spokesman for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

He said the organization strongly opposes the timing and manner of the investigation, noting that a week of activities in support of immigration reform is planned nationwide, including citizenship workshops, community meetings and marches planned for May 1.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.)

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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