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Student activist says ICE targeted her family to silence her

Posted: 03/05/08 at 9:05 am EST

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- A Miami-Dade College student on Tuesday accused immigration authorities of targeting her family for deportation because of her activism on behalf of illegal immigrant students.

Gaby Pacheco, 23, is a native of Ecuador and in the U.S. on a student visa. She has long spoken out in favor of immigration reform and the so-called "dream act," which would allow students brought to the country illegally as young children to eventually become citizens. Through her activism, Pacheco has traveled to Washington, D.C. and been interviewed on TV.

Her allegations stem from an August 2006 immigration raid at her Miami home. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents told the family then that they were searching for another immigrant with a name similar to several of Pacheco's relatives. They ended up detaining her parents and two sisters instead. All four are here illegally.

During the interviews with the family, agents made it clear they knew who Pacheco was, she said.

"They told my sister Erica, 'you're the girl that goes on TV.' She said "no, that's not me. You've got me confused with my little sister,"' Pacheco recalled.

Pacheco says investigators also later told her directly they had seen her on TV, and that it wasn't smart to have spoken out. They warned her not to go to the media again, she added. Pacheco says she became frightened when she noticed an agent had two old photos of her lying on top of a file, meaning they had likely been tracking her for a while.

Immigration officials declined to comment on specifics surrounding the case due to pending litigation. But ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said in a statement, "those who are in violation of U.S. law should not be surprised if they are arrested."

Pacheco family lawyer Ira Kurzban said, "we believe we will be able to prove the Pacheco family was singled out because they were the parents of Gaby Pacheco, who was an activist."

The 2006 raid came just months after a series of massive demonstrations across the country -- many led by students -- to protest a harsh immigration bill that later failed in Congress.

Pacheco said she kept quiet about many details of the case for nearly two years because she was initially afraid going public would make things worse.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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